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'Shahs of Sunset' reality show: Is this what Iranian-Americans are like?

'Shahs of Sunset' purports to introduce Americans to the culture of Iranian-Americans. But by casting an ultrarich family, some say, it will seem more like 'Keeping up with the Kardashians.'

By Roshanak TaghaviCorrespondent / March 11, 2012

Reza Farahan (l.) and Mike Shouhed are shown in a scene from the new series, Shahs of Sunset, premiering Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on Bravo.

Colleen E. Hayes/Bravo/AP

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Washington

California's Iranian-American community is getting its very own reality TV show – exposing millions of viewers to the culture, trials, and antics of six Iranian-American men and women who either immigrated to the United States with their families after Iran's 1979 revolution, or were born and raised in America.

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At a time when reports on Iran and things Iranian focus primarily on the Islamic Republic's controversial nuclear program, the prospects for war, and sanctions, much of the Iranian American community is asking whether “Shahs of Sunset,” which debuts Sunday night on Bravo, could help improve American perceptions of Iranian culture.

Some, though, are also asking whether the show trades in one stereotype for another, and whether it presents a face of the community that Iranian-Americans want to show.

“It's introducing people to the idea that Iranian culture even exists,” says Shadi Gholizadeh, a researcher on Iranian politics from the San Francisco Bay area. “It's showing a face of Iranians that's not related to terrorism or nuclear weapons.”

Produced by Ryan Seacrest, host of “American Idol” and producer of “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” which depicts the family life of Armenian-American socialite Kim Kardashian, “Shahs of Sunset” will take place in Los Angeles, a.k.a. “Tehr-Angeles,” home to the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran's capital, Tehran.

“Shahs” certainly marks a shift in the stereotypical portrayal of Iranians, which was dominated by the frightening images of Americans held hostage in Tehran after the 1979 overthrow of the Shah. Even in the 1990s, films such as “Not Without My Daughter” (1991) branded Iranian culture as narrow-minded and provincial.

In reality, the Iranian-American community has been anything but, with Iranian-Americans playing major roles in American corporations such as eBay, Google, Expedia, AT&T, and Yahoo.

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