PROVO — Brigham Young University is launching a reality-TV series.

No, Ute fans, the title is not "Survivor: Provo." Nor will it be called "Biggest Loser: UCLA," Cougar fans. Or even "American Idol: The BYU Quarterback Edition."

But the producers might have dubbed the show "Cosmonanny," after the BYU sports mascot.

The straight-laced, religious university has created a show similar to ABC's hit "Supernanny," but without a nanny or a single expert who intervenes in the lives of troubled families.

Instead, "Real Families, Real Answers," will reveal the strengths and challenges of families captured by TV cameras last year and a team of family life experts, including many from the university's faculty, will separately present principles for success.

BYU is home to the nation's largest collection of family scholars.

The 13 weekly episodes will air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on BYU Television starting tonight. In Utah, the series will air Sundays at 6:30 p.m. on KBYU beginning Sept. 28.

Director Blair Treu, who has made six feature-length films and directed television series like "Power Rangers" and "Chicken Soup for the Soul," promised a series that realistically presents the essence of modern family life, without the overdone dramatics of some reality shows.

"Some people enjoy sitting back and watching a dysfunctional family yell and scream at each other," Treu said in a prepared statement. "That's not what we're about. We're celebrating the things that families are doing right, accepting the fact that they're not perfect and there are things they could do better."

BYU professor Steve Duncan served as the director of content development for the series. He said the concept was to weave the principles of family success into the stories of real families shown as they actually live and work.

"We've got some great shots of these families being who they are," Duncan said. "These are good families, but they're not perfect, and in many cases they are struggling with issues viewers will find appealing and will empathize with and relate to."

Jane Clayson Johnson, a BYU alumna who once hosted CBS's "Early Show," will narrate the episodes.

The answers promised by the show's title come from scholarly research. The parenting episode alone draws on nine studies published by BYU researchers.

"We carefully reviewed the episodes to make sure they represent the leading-edge thinking on these topics," Duncan said.

For example, the first two episodes address nine characteristics that studies show strong families to have in common. Those commonalities include commitment, faith, love and communication.

BYU's first experience with reality TV was bumpy. In 2000, a student named Julie Stoffer joined the cast of MTV's "The Real World: New Orleans," during which she lived in a mansion with two other women and four men. Based on university Honor Code provisions that students of opposite genders must not live together, school officials suspended her in a nationally publicized flap.

With "Real Families, Real Answers," BYU controls the product and the network, both of which are intended to be family friendly.

The show will help the university fill the voluminous hours of programming on its cable network. BYU Television is available in 48 million American homes on cable and through satellite providers DirecTV and the Dish Network. BYU Television's programs also are available via streaming video on the Internet at www.byutv.org.

Those aren't only places viewers will find "Real Families, Real Answers."

The new series will debut on BYU-TV International in January and PBS stations around the country will carry the series in 2009. DVD sets of the show are expected to be available next year, as well, according to a letter Treu sent to families and experts involved in the show.

The advice "Real Families, Real Answers" offers will range from how to strengthen marriages and manage family finances to blending families, managing emotions, overcoming pornography and protecting family time.

In one episode, a family stationed at a military base copes with the deployment to Iraq of the father of six children.

The series cost more than $800,000 to produce, most of it funded by donors who were honored with a preview on Thursday night.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com