T.O. hopes to reveal the real Owens

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.O. is the brash, mercurial athlete, a polarizing teammate for 13 NFL seasons. Terrell is the man, shy and sensitive by nature.

You've probably heard of one. Terrell Owens wants you to meet the other.

In an eight-episode reality series set to premiere Monday on the VH-1 cable network, Owens says he'll present a counter argument to critics who portray him as a one-dimensional showboat perhaps known as much for self-indulgent sideline eruptions and quarterback criticisms as for being one of the most prolific receivers of his generation.

"Terrell you'll see pretty much on this show," Owens said. "It's pretty much to the 'T' of how I am. I mean, it's reality."

Publicist Monique Jackson, one of Owens' closest friends and a prominent figure in the show, said viewers will get a lot more than a glimpse into the life of a wealthy professional athlete.

"He's human. He has feelings. He has a life story," Jackson said. "There are all these layers that you don't understand, and all you see is this crazy body with phenomenal athletic abilities and this character."

Even as he tries to reveal another side of himself, Owens is aware that "The T.O. Show" might bring criticism from those who will label it just another exercise in self-promotion.

"That's fine. Everybody's entitled to their opinion," he said. "If it wasn't the show, it was going to be something else."

The series is partly based in Buffalo, where Owens has been the center of attention since signing with the Bills in early March, a few days after being released by the Dallas Cowboys. Some of that attention is directly connected to the reality show and certain coordinated events arranged to provide the main character something to do.

One event had Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown presenting Owens with a key to the city at a ceremony that included a high school marching band on the steps of an art gallery. Then there was Owens playing the role of broadcaster, presenting the sports news on a local television station. He also visited the Anchor Bar, birthplace of Buffalo-style chicken wings, and Niagara Falls.

On the day The Associated Press was invited to view the filming, Owens spent part of an afternoon touring two condominiums overlooking the city's waterfront.

The 20-member VH-1 crew was already in place at the front doors of the complex when Owens and his entourage pulled up in an SUV and were greeted by a real estate agent.

The search came up empty, as both suites -- including a 2,000-square foot, two-bedroom condo -- were considered too small for Owens' needs. Kita Williams, also an Owens publicist and friend, did most of the talking, and at one point urged the real estate agent to "get diva-licious and let's figure something out."

Yet there also are scenes of compelling authenticity.

Filming began the same week Owens was cut by the Cowboys, and cameras were rolling when the receiver learned of his release while watching television.

Owens is particularly proud of the filming that took place in his native Alabama, where he spent time with his grandmother, Alice Black, whom he credits for raising him and who now suffers from Alzheimer's.

"It gives me chills," Owens said, growing emotional speaking about his visit. "That brought back memories. It's the intimate stuff, spending time with my family, really showing that's who I am. That's how I've gotten to be so successful. That's why I am who I am."

Much of that has to do with Black. Her influence on Owens is evident as he discusses how difficult it is for him to cope with her illness, which first became apparent early this decade.

"My success and all that I've accomplished, she knows nothing of it," Owens said. "That is so, like, my motivation. She's been a rock for me. This is a reward for her. She's been so much to me."

Producer Jesse Ignjatovic was impressed by how much Owens allowed crews to film.

"What did surprise me is the depth that he was willing to go to in the show emotionally and also reflecting on his own life and shortcomings and things he wants to do to make him a better man," Ignjatovic said. "He really shows some sides of himself and really exposes his emotions in ways that I never thought possible."

Williams and Jackson are not surprised, because this is the side of Owens they've known since first becoming friends with him some 10 years ago.

Their roles in the show are integral as far as Owens is concerned because they offer perspective into who the receiver is, beyond the highlights and what people have written about him.

"People think he's misunderstood," Williams said. "He's not misunderstood at all. It's just that people don't know him, so it's hard to understand when you don't have the background."

"We're not saying he was perfect when we met him," Williams said.

Added Jackson: "And he's still not perfect."

Williams says loving Owens as a friend is no different than loving your own child.

"You're sometimes going to be disappointed," she said. "But does that mean you don't care about that person?"

Owens, at 35, is no child of course. He is sensitive about his image and unhappy with how the media often concentrates on the negative or outlandish things he might do while overlooking the positives, such as his charitable work or how many of his former teammates in Philadelphia and Dallas rallied to his support.

"I feel like they're poisoning minds about who I am," Owens said. "That's the unfairness of it because [people] take everything that they say as it is, pretty much biblical. I understand being journalistic and doing your job but, dude, report the facts."

"I can't win for losing," Owens said, shrugging his shoulders.

At least the show gives him his own platform.

"I'm the EP," he says with a slight grin, "executive producer."