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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 01/10/2011

Rob Lowe and "Potomac Fever" help VIP Washington get over its fear of reality TV

By The Reliable Source

Pay no mind to that thing over your head: Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), center, and his wife Kasey have a perfectly natural conversation with lobbyist Jack Quinn at a made-for-TV cocktail party for the making of "Potomac Fever" (Courtesy Meridian International Center)

Back in the day -- say, 2009 -- most of Bigshot Washington would have sooner posted naked kegstand photos on Facebook than get within a mile of a reality-TV camera.

Lobbyists and pols rebuffed recruiters for "The Real Housewives of D.C." Party hosts turned away the crews of "Blonde Charity Mafia." Producers trying to sign sexy young Hill staffers for pilots about The Real Washington or whatever discovered that in this town, nobody wants to embarrass (or upstage) the boss.

Rob Lowe with CNN reporter Jessica Yellin (Susanna Quinn)

So how to account for what happened Thursday night? A new reality show threw one of those made-for-TV parties where half the guests are miked up and the cameras are all up in your face poised for the next gaffe -- and yet some uber-serious Washingtonians showed up. Willingly.

In the mix at the Meridian House cocktail soiree for "Potomac Fever": New National Economic Council director Gene Sperling, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), Bush speechwriters-turned-pundits Michael Gerson and David Frum, former RNC chair and White House counselor Ed Gillespie, TV journalists Jake Tapper, Bret Baier, Ed Henry, Jan Crawford and Jessica Yellin.

Also, Rob Lowe. Did we mention that he's the show's producer?

The tanned and bright-eyed former Brat Packer worked the room as cameras rolled -- focusing not on him but on six young D.C. strivers who are to make up the tentative cast of the show, now in development for E! (They are: Hill staffer and Wizards cheerleader Kristie Muchnok; aspiring broadcaster Margaret Howell; 94.7 FM deejay Tommy McFly; WUSA-9 anchor Angie Goff; former Log Cabin Republican spokesman Charles Moran; and college student Miranda Frum -- yes, the daughter of David and his writer-wife, Danielle Crittenden). Lowe held forth on the difference between showbiz journalists and political journalists (apparently, the latter are much scarier), indulged the "West Wing" nostalgia of guests and talked a good talk about what this reality show -- we think he called it a "non-scripted docudrama"? -- aims to do.

Lowe chats up Ed Gillespie (Courtesy of Meridian International Center)

"There is a cost for both trying to change the world and living the status quo," he said in an e-mail later. "We are trying to find and tell these stories in a broad audience way."

Obviously, attitudes about reality TV have changed for politicians a bit, after a year in which President Obama guested on "MythBusters" and the Palins starred on not one but two series. For most in the room, though, it's clear the new comfort zone was created by the party's hostess: Susanna Quinn, a native Washingtonian and wife of mega-lobbyist Jack Quinn. A vivacious blonde whom many reality producers have attempted to cast over the years (and, disclosure, a pal of ours), she was signed by Lowe and local production company 44 Blue as a consultant and associate producer to help find a cast and get the vibe right.

How'd she get such a high-tone crowd to turn out for a show from the network that brought us the Kardashians? She insisted that this show is different: "This isn't about cat fights or flipping tables," she told us. "They want to maintain the authenticity of Washington."

Hmmm, we've heard that before, but okay. Ultimately, it seems that getting a good lineup came down to calling pals and asking really really nicely.

"My thing was, these are young people, come give them advice," Quinn told us. "And I said, 'If you don't want to be on camera, absolutely no problem.'"

By The Reliable Source  | January 10, 2011; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Parties  
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