In 1988, Eddie Murphy generated a huge hit with “Coming to America.” He played an African prince who comes to the United States, pretends to be poor and nets a woman who falls in love with him and not his title.
Nearly a quarter century later, TLC has taken that concept and turned it into a reality TV show “Secret Princes,” shot over the summer in Atlanta and debuting Friday at 10 p.m. It’s based on a similar British show that aired in 2009.
The four members of royalty from England, Spain and India lived in a modest Midtown home for a few weeks and pretended to be average guys working minimum wage jobs. During the first of five episodes, they searched for ladies at the Highlander restaurant/bar in Midtown, shopped at the Clothing Warehouse in Little Five Points, bought food and wine at Candler Park Market and participated in speed-dating event at The Warren City Club in Virginia Highland. Later, they learn to line dance and cook and clean for themselves.
At the end of their stay, they will “reveal” their true selves to see how the women they dated react.
The producers couldn’t be totally honest with the owners and managers of these locales, who were told it was a Canadian reality show about foreigners adjusting to life in the United States.
Amy Winter, who runs TLC programming and has lived in Atlanta for 20 years, knew the city would be perfect for the men. “We wanted a metropolitan city that still had a hometown feel,” she said. “It had to be big enough to have a big active social scene but not so bustling that the men would get lost in it. And it has a diversity of women and neighborhoods. You can send them to a barbecue joint one day, a high-end restaurant the next. It kind of has a tick in every box.” (I’m sure the tax credits didn’t hurt either.)
She said the network had a tough time finding royalty willing to sign on to this reverse “Joe Millionaire,” the infamous Fox reality show a decade ago where a poor guy pretends to be rich, then reveals the truth to see if the woman sticks with him. (She didn’t.)
“It’s definitely a small pool,” Winter said.
She found it interesting to see how these men adjust to life without the trappings of royalty. “Are they wishing they could have those crutches back or is it freeing to be able to date without them?” Winter said.
The four bachelors who are on the show all are familiar with the film “Coming to America.” One joked, “At home, I had to fire the rose petal bearers as the rabbit got sick eating the petals, and it was a nightmare going out to eat because of the mess.”
And they all praised the women of Atlanta.
- Lord Robert Walters, 30. On his website, the British model claims lineage to Henry VIII and loves to show off his six-pack abs on the show.
He seems very comfortable facing a new environment and most bemused by the entire situation. “I was raised to be self-effacing, grounded and prejudice-free,” he wrote to me in an email interview. “I do not believe in class divide, I think you should treat a person by how they are as a human being never by their wealth or title. I was always taught to speak and treat everybody equally. Being rich, royalty or famous does not automatically make you a good person, on some occasion quite the opposite.”
Granted a low-level job at the Park Tavern in Midtown, he spends more time the first day flirting with the ladies than working. “I was not cut out to be a waiter,” he wrote, “pretty terrible honestly. I got into a lot of trouble working there… a lot of trouble! I think the problem is I get bored very easily so I would find other things to entertain me… like pushing a waitress down the hill in a beer cart – with her consent of course.”
He would have preferred working at the pet groomers, where Sal and Cisco landed.
While he enjoyed Atlanta’s “cool vibe,” he was a bit grossed out by Ludo’s messy room: “a pig would look at it and say, ‘Actually, I think I will check into a hotel.’ ”
His take on Sal: “very kind hearted, sweet lovable guy… I felt a bit protective over him. He is quite sheltered living in India. I think Sal found it to be the hardest adjustment.”
His take on Ludo: “Very, very young. I don’t think he has quite discovered his true self.”
His take on Cisco: “Brilliant company, my best friend on the show.”
Strangest place he saw in Atlanta was a “tattoo glory hole.” You place a body part there and someone will tattoo something of their choice. “This was not a place I would go again… ever!”
- Honorable Ludovic Watson, 23. (Call him Ludo). He lives at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, England, according to the U.K. Daily Mail. As the youngest of the quartet, he come across as innocent but open minded.
One thing he learned is he wasn’t particularly good about staying hygienic: “I don’t smell as good as I think I do.”
His favorite hangouts: Clermont Lounge, Sriracha House, Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium, Southern Comfort restaurant and lounge
- Prince Francisco Joaquin de Borbon von Hardenberg of Spain, 33. (Call him Cisco.) Despite his European roots, he speaks in an American accent and seemed very laid back and well adjusted in the first episode. He attended American international schools and a university in Miami and even traveled to Atlanta during college as part of the crew team.
He said in an email interview that his family was surprised he did the show because “I have avoided cameras my whole life.”
As for being a royal, he said he doesn’t make a big deal out of it. “I consider myself pretty down to earth. The main difference is that most people know who I am, especially when they hear my name. To this day I still get amused with the reactions I get when people hear my name.”
And he got along with the other three effortlessly: “I think being the oldest I took on a bit of a big brother role, especially with Ludo and Sal. They were the ones who felt most out of place, so I always looked out for them. Rob is probably one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, we became inseparable immediately! We still talk all the time.”
One thing he learned: Atlantans do pamper their dogs!
- Prince Salauddin Babi of India, 32. (Call him Sal.) He came across as the most pampered of the four men, insisting on his own bathroom.
‘I have always been surrounded by members of my staff who have always looked after me and fulfilled all my daily requirements thus it was a bit difficult to adjust but I did finally adjust!” he explained in an email. “I am very particular about cleanliness and personal hygiene! I feel a bathroom is a very personal space and thus I refused to share it with anyone else!”
He is under pressure to find a wife of his own before his parents find one for him. That is closest scenario to “Coming to America.” He also participated in a similar dating show in the Netherlands, coming up blank.
His favorite Atlanta spots were Bacchanalia, the Park Tavern and Piedmont Park.
10 p.m., Fridays, TLC
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk