Ludacris and Tommy Lee rock the lower 9th ward
From the TP real estate section on Saturday August 2, 2008
Given the carbon-hog power consumption of a typical concert tour — those long bus rides, dazzling light shows and thundering amp stacks flat-out guzzle the juice — having Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee and hip-hop star Chris “Ludacris” Bridges front a new TV series all about eco-sensitivity might seem like a slap at dedicated tree-huggers.
But both men are fathers of young children and eager to learn more about how they can reduce their own Gaia-defiling boot-prints. So here comes “Battleground Earth,” a 10-episode series in which Lee and Ludacris travel the nation competing in reality-TV-style challenges intended to educate both themselves and their audience about practical green living.
Rival posses — dubbed “ecorages” in the show — and guest stars — to include Magic Johnson, Wayne Brady, Travis Tritt and Criss Angel, among others — join in the action.
So, why Lee and Ludacris and not such established eco-celebrities as Sheryl Crow or Ed Begley Jr.?
“That’s the exact point,” said Jonathan McHugh, “Battleground Earth” supervising producer. “It can’t be a polemic, and it’s got to have big entertainment value.”
For McHugh, Ludacris and Lee are the answers to these questions: “How is this entertaining? How do we make it rock?”
The New Orleans challenge involves the two stars’ colorful posses assembling green-to-go “LifePod” units manufactured by Envision Solar for the Epiphany Missionary Baptist Church.
“What we’re doing in this is demonstrating that solar power and simple buildings are accessible to everyone,” said Robert Noble, chair and CEO of Envision. “They’re not just for Al Gore.
“Ludacris and Tommy Lee represent the rest of the population, who will hear it from these guys and watch them demonstrate to everybody that you can get out there and you can do this.
“This is a great opportunity to participate in a full-blown demonstration of the potential of environmentally responsible building, and a commitment to clean energy and healthy buildings for people who most need it.”
During the springtime shoot for the local episode, the unlikely pairing of Lee and Ludacris had already formed a tight, though still competitive, bond.
The initial pitch to participate in the series, Lee said, was a little puzzling at first, but gradually made sense.
“I vowed never to do another reality show,” said Lee, veteran of NBC’s “Tommy Lee Goes to College” and CBS’ “Rock Star: Supernova,” in an on-location interview. “The more I started listening, I thought, ‘I don’t really consider this to be a reality show. To me, this seems more like a documentary.’ It’s Discovery. This is not (bleeping) NBC or MTV with another (bleepy) reality show. This, to me, is something with a really powerful message.
“The more I’m getting into this, the more I’m learning. I’m really along for the ride as well. There is some amazing stuff I had no idea about.
“I’m at a place in my life where I’m about doing anything I haven’t done yet. I’m always looking for a challenge, something fun and new to do.
“When I was asked to do this, I was, ‘OK, what’s this about?’ When I found out it was all about this green stuff, I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know a lot about that at all. I want to know. I have kids.’
“I’ve been very blessed with a pretty amazing life and a lot of beautiful things. I’ve got compassion as a human being, and I want to give something back, or point people in the right direction.”
For his part, Ludacris, who heads his own charitable foundation for youth, thought the odd-couple concept had potential to transcend eco-preaching.
“I was thinking, ‘This is something positive. This is something good,’¤” said Ludacris, in another on-location interview. “When they told me it was a competition against him, I thought they were bringing separate worlds of music together, and I thought that was a good idea.”
The good idea multiplied into many good ideas, several of which the participants said they intend to employ in their own professional and personal lives.
“One of the reasons I signed on to do this was not only to educate people, but to educate myself,” Ludacris said. “I’m learning every day, and I’m trying to implement what I’m learning into my natural life.”
For example, Ludacris is investigating solar power for his Atlanta-area home and recently bought a hybrid car. “It starts with me,” he said. “And, basically, I’m using my celebrity to tell people to do the same.”
At the time of the New Orleans filming, Lee said, he already had learned about an “amazing” lawn turf that uses little water and requires little maintenance — “And it just looks (bleeping) gorgeous, right?” Low-power light bulbs and solar energy also have made an impression.
“I would love to just get off the grid and not have an electric bill,” he said. “Who wouldn’t?
“I’m getting all this information, and the second I get home there are going to be a lot of changes.”
Both Lee and Ludacris had been to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Both seemed unsettled by the slow pace of recovery.
“Three years and still jacked up,” Lee said. “Doesn’t seem like a whole lot of progress.”
But the righteous message of their work here, not to mention the opportunity to make a new friend, seemed to override the bleak condition of the setting.
“I have a whole new respect for him,” said Ludacris of Lee. “He doesn’t take life too seriously. I didn’t really know what to expect of him. I’d say he’s a really cool, down-to-earth, humble guy.”
“We’ve been hanging out,” Lee added. “We’ve had a good time. He’s a similar soul. He’s all about doing this for the kids, doing this for people in general. He’s a good man, and we’ve had a good time hanging out.
“At the end of the day, really, we’re here for the same reason.”
Envision boss Noble, for one, was impressed with the hard-rock-meets-hip-hop work ethic.
“The level of professionalism was extreme,” Noble said. “They were absolutely serious about it, and the physical commitment to their goals was extraordinary to watch.”
And, he added, “it was actually a heck of a good party, frankly.”
WHAT: A new TV show starring rocker Tommy Lee and hip-hop star Ludacris, who head up teams called “posses” that will compete in environmentally oriented challenges. The show will travel the country, but the first episode is set in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans.
THE CHALLENGE: In this show, each team must build a ‘LifePod,’ a portable steel building powered with photovoltaic solar cells, designed by California company Envision Solar. Winner is the first to complete construction and light up the team leader’s name on the facade with the structure’s solar power.
WHEN: Aug. 3 at 9 p.m.
WHERE: Planet Green network (Cox Communications channel 102, Charter channel 157).