The road to Road Rules: An oral history of the unaired pilot
In 1993, The Real World was a bona fide hit, with two seasons in the can and a third in the works. MTV approached the show’s production company, Bunim/Murray, about a spin-off, and the idea for Road Rules was born. Like most TV shows, a pilot would need to be created to determine if the concept worked; so a year later, five strangers were selected to crowd into a van and hit the road for a one-week adventure that would never make it to air, though one face would eventually become synonymous with the series. Now three of those cast members — Mark Long, Shani Rosenzweig, and Heather Maclean (née Beach, who’s also a former EW intern!) — along with executive producer Jonathan Murray, look back on the journey fans will never see.
JONATHAN MURRAY: We came up with the title and decided that rather than sending diverse young people to an urban center, we would send them into the heartland of America, where they would do a series of missions that would put them out of their comfort zone and that they would grow from…. We were able to find great people among the people we had rejected for Real World but who had the qualities that we thought would be great for Road Rules.
SHANI ROSENZWEIG: I got a phone call that said, “We’re not casting you in Real World: San Francisco, but we are doing a pilot and it’s basically The Real World in a van.” I was in the middle of a gap year, so it was easy for me to just pick up and say I was going to take a free vacation for five days.
MARK LONG: When [Bunim/ Murray] said physical stuff and traveling, I was like, “Sign me up.” I’d rather do that than sit in the house and bitch at each other, you know?
HEATHER BEACH MACLEAN: I literally got off the plane and they were filming me. They dropped me in a conference room at some MTV offices, and then the other cast members showed up. A tape recorder was on the table, and somebody got slipped a note: “Play the tape.” And that was the first “Welcome to Road Rules. Your clue is you must disembark; you must go somewhere that is a combination of your last names.”
MURRAY: The voice on the tape was actually mine, so we definitely knew this was not for air… At one point, they were getting a clue and Mark Long or one of the other kids said, “Who is this guy?!”
LONG: The pilot didn’t have an RV. We traveled in a minivan. We didn’t have GPS — it was all maps.
MURRAY: They go into this vast parking garage to try and find their blue van, and they get into the wrong van. They can’t figure out where the keys are and then someone says, “You know, I’m not sure this is our van.” It was pretty funny.
ROSENZWEIG: The first thing they did when we got there was they took away all of our money and credit cards. We drove to Long Beach [California] in the van, and we had to figure out how to get to Catalina with no money…. When we got to Catalina, we were sent to an Arabian horse ranch to make money. I remember saying, “I will not shovel manure.” Cut to me shoveling manure.
MACLEAN: A horse sneezed all over me, which I thought was super-disgusting…. We would beg for jobs so that we would get paid to eat and paid to be able to stay where we were. One night we camped in a campground… one night we slept in a barn loft with bats.
MURRAY: When we saw just the mechanical process of them figuring this stuff out, we knew there was something really cool here…. And we immediately started to see Mark and Shani start to sort of vibe off of each other, and that causes [Heather] to get a little bit jealous.
LONG: Even though it was only a week, it was kind of a good story line.
MACLEAN: I was secretly engaged, but I hadn’t told anybody. Then when I saw the pilot, I was like, “Oh, I’m supposedly in love with Mark. And me and Shani are fighting over him. Fantastic.” My husband and I officially got married two weeks after the Road Rules thing ended.
ROSENZWEIG: Mark was really smart in the way that Bunim/Murray was really smart. He knew that they needed a story line. He would sort of whisper in my ear and tell me what we should do so that the camera would be on us…so it didn’t surprise me at all [when he wound up cast in season 1 of the show].
MURRAY: It was about a 30-minute pilot we turned in to MTV, and they immediately said, “Yes, this works….” The real joy they were having, the fun they were having, the missteps — it was just so much fun to watch. The show made you smile, it made you laugh, it reminded you of what it was like to be young and really captured that…. There’s such an optimism and an innocence to the show. No one’s getting completely drunk, there’s no hot tub. It’s sort of a kinder, sweeter, more innocent time.
Road Rules premiered on MTV on July 19, 1995, and aired a total of 14 seasons over the course of 12 years, ending in May 2007. Murray is still producing reality television for Bunim/Murray. Rosenzweig is now a partner in the talent division at United Talent Agency. Maclean appeared on the 2004 reality series The Rebel Billionaire and is a New York Times best-selling author. Long remains a reality TV star and entrepreneur.