Mpls. Strip Club Hopes to Lap Up Reality TV Success

Posted at: 01/31/2013 10:39 PM
Updated at: 02/01/2013 9:25 AM
By: Mark Saxenmeyer

From "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" to "The Real Housewives," reality TV fills up hundreds of channels, and turns unknowns into household names.

But few of these shows have been based in Minnesota. The genre relies on over-the-top characters and outrageous situations, and maybe we're just too "well-adjusted" here.

A downtown Minneapolis strip club is aiming to change that.

"This is my life. I'm completely consumed by it," says Brian Michael in a "sizzle reel" he's made, promoting a reality show about Augie's Cabaret. Michael has owned the club for a decade.

Seven days a week, Michael says he goes to work to throw a party. Granted, it's not everybody's idea of a good time, but plenty of people lap it up.

"Everybody's got their problems," Michael says in the video. "You've got yours and I've got mine."

"99 Problems," to be exact. That's the name of Michael's proposed show. (It's also the name of a song by rapper Jay-Z.)

Michael thinks the everyday problems at Augie's--from fights among the strippers to unruly patrons--would make great TV.

"I think we have a story to tell," he tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

And to help him tell it: his 49 surveillance cameras "They show all my interiors, they cover all the door entrances. It gives me eyes on everything," Michael explains. He says he paid "north of $70,000" for them.

They were originally installed for security, but he now records everything they see. "I can take any one of these cameras and harvest it to an editing program," Michael says.

Everyone who enters Augie's, at 5th and Hennepin, must agree to be on camera. In one scene shown in the sizzle reel, a customer entering the club grabs a $20 bill back from a bouncer and runs out the door, chased by Augie's security. The bill was being checked to see if it was counterfeit.

Augie's co-manager Gus Sailee says, "We get the real reality of it, ya know, 'boom in yer face'!"

In the last year, police say they've been called to Augie's about 50 times--that's fewer than 99 problems. The call logs list the problems as everything from "fight" and "assault" to "person with a weapon" and "unknown trouble."

"This block is notor-it's known for, you know..." says co-manager Lyneal Carothers. He stops himself before calling Augie's "notorious."

Still, police say 50 calls in one year is less than some other downtown establishments.

"I think I have 1,148 pounds of security," Michael says, adding the combined weight of his nine staffers.

Another dramatic scene in the sizzle reel shows Michael handling a tip-stealing scandal among his performers. SItting on the floor in the dancers' dressing room, guarding an enormous pile of money, he screams, "Bag that money up! Quarantine all this money! Don't touch nothing! Do not touch a (bleep)ing dollar!"

But most of this show-in-the making revolves around the seemingly 99 million problems of the strippers. In one scene, Michael says to two young women being called out for brawling, "You have to answer to the bad choices, the things that you do."

One of them says to the other, "This is my family so I don't want us to argue like that any more."

According to "Exotica," a stripper who's been at Augie's for six years, "Some people are quick to judge but once you watch and see what we go through you'll be like 'wow, that could be the same life as my cousin or my little sister has'."

Other scenes involve a stripper who falls down drunk. Michael then administers a breathalyzer test. "I had two more Long Islands," she tells him.

"I didn't say have two more (bleep)ing Long Islands!" he screams at her. "I told you not to drink!"

"Maybe I should not have drank a little more," she slurs.

"Sweetheart, it's terrible for you," Michael tells her.

"It's not a lap dance show," Michael insists. "I mean, there is incidental nudity. But it is not the essence of what the show is. It's more of a human story."

In another scene, an emotional stripper tells Michael she's going to quit. "They don't like me," she says, referring to the other dancers. "I'm being honest. They don't. I tried."

"What are they saying?" Michael asks her.

"Everybody has said to me, 'what are you doing here, what are you doing here?'" she responds. "This is not a place for me. I'm obviously getting that."

"I'm sorry," Michael says. "Let me get you a tissue."

After two years of taping and editing promo, demo and sizzle reels, "we're pitching everybody," Michael says. "We're pitching to anybody who is into TV production and putting things on to TV."

"That's going to be a hard sell," says David Page, after watching one of Michael's demos. Page runs one of the Twin Cities' most successful reality TV production companies. Over the last decade he's created and produced shows like "Tailgate Warriors," "Outrageous Food," and the smash hit "Diners, Drive Ins and Dives."

"Look, local production in Minneapolis needs all the help we can get," Page says. "I hope they sell it. But I don't know what network these days is going to do a show about strippers."

TV execs and advertisers might be hard pressed to support a profession that many feel objectifies and exploits women.

In the last few years, Page has produced demos for more than 30 additional shows. But none of them has sold. "The bottom line," he explains, "is most folks have a 0 to .5 hit rate."

Page became so frustrated trying to get a network to greenlight his latest show, "Beer Geeks," he gave up. He's now funding production of entire episodes with his own money, and then peddling them to individual TV stations around the country. "As opposed to beating my head against the wall with the networks," he says.

Another reason it's so hard to sell a show: the relative low cost of digital photography and editing has opened the playing field wide open. As a result, compared to a decade ago, there are now thousands of people, and production companies, trying to do exactly what Michael is trying to do with Augie's Cabaret. It's a crowded, extremely competitive field.

At the same time, the networks almost always buy shows from the big players in the business--the known entities. It's a much safer risk.

Michael admits his show "is not for everybody." But he's convinced that "we've put together a product you can't ignore."

And he vows to keep shooting, editing, producing, and pitching -- no matter the cost. So far he puts production costs in the "tens of thousands."

And if it never sells? What will he do? Michael pauses.

"I just enjoy making it," he says. "I enjoy it."

Besides, what's one more problem, when you already have 99.

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com. The "sizzle reel" of Augie's Cabaret can be found at www.99problems.tv.