"Scrubbing In," a reality show featuring nine travel nurses who stayed in Orange County this summer, will premiere Thursday on MTV. (MTV / October 23, 2013)

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When "Scrubbing In," MTV's new reality series about travel nurses, airs its first episode Thursday night, it will have a formidable act to follow in terms of media outrage and water-cooler gossip.

In short, it will have to top its own trailer.

All the general public has seen of the 10-episode series, which follows nine nurses from different parts of the country as they immerse themselves in Orange County life, is a short montage and a few clips on MTV.com. But those snippets have already ignited a war of words online, as some are lobbying to have the show taken off the air while others praise it as a noble effort to spotlight a heroic profession.

A Change.org petition, which had gathered 13,710 signatures as of Wednesday, calls the show an "obvious dramatization" that upholds "the senseless sexual objectification that we as nurses, both male and female, continue to endure." The Canadian Nurses Assn., among others, has gotten behind the campaign, with that group's president writing in an open letter that the show will demean the work of real nurses with "typical 'reality' show fodder."

Members of the "Scrubbing In" team have a quick response to those critics: Watch the program first, then make up your mind.

"I guess in any profession, there's just a lot of strong personalities, and people tend to judge before they actually see what the television show is all about," said Chelsey Ferri, who lives in Pennsylvania and spent the summer filming in Costa Mesa and thereabouts. "We all are experienced nurses. I don't necessarily know that those people know that."

So what do those scandalous promotional materials show? The main trailer for "Scrubbing In" begins with a quick shot of cast members leaping nude into a swimming pool, followed by a voiceover declaring, "They're hellraisers!" Over the next minute, it features shots of the nurses drinking, flirting, arguing and occasionally uttering torrents of bleeped-out oaths.

Maybe it's not what Florence Nightingale had in mind. But in fairness, the trailer also shows the nurses hard at work assisting patients, with one cast member, at the end, wiping tears off her cheeks and declaring, "I love what I do. I love being a nurse."


Poignancy, superficiality

Neither the show's supporters nor detractors are likely to change their opinions much after viewing the first episode — at least, if the final cut is similar to the rough one provided to the Daily Pilot last week.

Some scenes show the businesslike end of nursing, as two cast members have trouble securing work licenses upon arrival in California. Other scenes sketch out the characters' pasts — one male nurse talks poignantly about his brother's death after a spinal cord injury — and show their excitement at moving into temporary digs at The Cape, an apartment complex near South Coast Plaza.

As for the rest: Within the first few minutes, one nurse discusses her breast implants, while another declares to the camera, "Hospitals are just like on television. Doctors [bleep] nurses, nurses [bleep] doctors. Everyone's crazy." Later scenes involve dialogue about vibrators and a profanity-laden argument at the Cape.

However irreverent the show may be at times, Mark Cronin, the executive producer and co-president of the production company 51 Minds Entertainment, sees it as higher-minded than the typical reality offering.

"My intent with the show is to tell an entertaining story about a group of people that you haven't seen in reality television yet," said Cronin, whose company partnered with MTV on the program. "And if I had to generalize, I'd say that, in general, reality televison casts are not super-professional. They're not highly educated, usually.

"There's a lot of redneck television. There's a lot of all kinds of reality television. But in general, you don't get to see really well-educated, well-spoken, ambitious, hardworking — these words are not usually used to describe reality television casts."

Cronin, who conceived the show last year, approached Aya Healthcare, a San Diego-based company that provides travel nurses for hospitals. (Travel nursing developed in response to nursing shortages.) Aya perused its database, and nine finalists — five from Pennsylvania, two from Louisiana, one from Texas and one from San Diego — made the cut.

According to Cronin, the Orange County setting was a happy coincidence. Western Medical Center and Coastal Communities Hospital, the two Santa Ana locations where the cast members worked, were in need of nurses over the summer. (Officials from both hospitals, citing an agreement with MTV, declined to comment on the show.)

Cast members subjected themselves to filming six days a week, with cameras following them both in and out of the hospital. Free time, at least early on, wasn't a concern; brief scenes in the first episode show the nurses boating in Newport Beach and congregating at local restaurants and clubs.