By Michael A. Upton
September 01, 2003 12:00 PM

Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson want to make one thing perfectly clear about Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, the new MTV reality show that will document the pop stars’ first year together as husband and wife. “We’re not doing any sex scenes,” says Lachey. “We didn’t want the show to be cheesy,” explains Simpson. “And that’s just cheesy.”

Lachey, 29, and Simpson, 23, have no qualms, however, about sitting on the bedroom rug in their new $1 million-plus Mediterranean-style house near L.A., caressing and kissing each other, while two MTV cameramen, a magazine photographer, a makeup artist and a hairstylist look on from a few feet away. Even after the photographer calls a wrap, the couple remains lip-and limb-locked.

A crazy-in-love Kodak moment? Sure. But for a couple who’d never lived together before their 2002 nuptials, there are also plenty of what might be called Osbourne moments as well. Such as Nick complaining about their household finances: “Jessica has no clue about how much money she has or where it goes.” Or Jessica returning home after a concert tour to find 20 loads of wash waiting for her. “I threw a tantrum and threw all the laundry off the bedroom balcony,” she recalls.

“When I first heard Nick and Jessica wanted to do this show,” says her mom, Tina, 43, who works as her daughter’s stylist, “I just thought, ‘Oh Lordy, here we go!’ I know what it’s like during the first year of marriage—you have so many changes and things to get used to.”

Which is exactly the point, says executive producer Rod Aissa. “The twist to this show is that while Jessica and Nick are stars, they’re also real people who have to experience the dynamics of a real relationship.”

Tell it to Lachey. “The thing learned about Jessica is that she’s used to having everything done for her,” he says. “She’ll take her shoes off in the living room and they’ll just stay there for the whole week until I put them away. She’ll leave a jacket here, a purse there. I finally had to sit her down and tell her, ‘I’m not your mom.'”

“Yes, it has been tough,” says Simpson. “I am a baby; Nick married a baby.” On the other hand, she says, “Nick irons everything. I knew Nick was a neat freak, but it’s different when you live with him. You see more of his obsessive-compulsive behavior.”

Their Odd Couple friction seems mild, however, compared to their combustible courtship. When they first met at the Hollywood Christmas Parade in 1998, the Dallas-born Simpson, who was 17 when record mogul Tommy Mottola signed her to a contract in 1997, and the Cincinnati-bred Lachey, who dropped out of Ohio’s Miami University at 21 to join the L.A. boy band that became 98°, shared the same manager but little else.

Still, “after we met,” says Lachey, “I found myself looking through the crowds for her all night.” They hooked up again a month later at a Teen People party in Florida. Back in L.A., the couple began dating and even bought condos in the same high-rise, two stories apart. But in 2001, two years into the romance, Simpson broke it off. The two reconciled several months later, and in February 2002 Lachey chartered a yacht in Hawaii and proposed to Simpson as the sun set on the Pacific. “I was wearing a huge sweat-shirt that came down to my knees,” she recalls. “If I had known he was going to propose, I would have at least dressed up cute.” The couple married in October 2002 in Austin.

Their TV chemistry first became evident in February on MTV’s Crib Crashers, in which designer Todd Oldham and Lachey turned an unfurnished bedroom into a luxurious screening room as a surprise for Simpson. Letting MTV into their home for five months, however, has been a mixed bag. “They have woken up at 5:30 in the morning to the sound of camera crews setting up,” says Simpson’s mom. The cameras have also caught the couple buffeted by career pressures. “You will definitely see me crying” in one scene, says Simpson, who gets frustrated when told she must go back and rerecord a song. On the plus side, she adds, the series “gives us exposure on MTV that you can’t buy.” Not coincidentally, her new album was released the same day the show premiered; Lachey’s comes out on Sept. 9.

As for the couple’s exposure to each other, there are definite signs of a warming trend. “I hang up my own wet towels now!” Simpson boasts. “And I put the toilet paper back on the roll, not on top of the toilet.”

“Yes,” says Lachey, eager to build on their new housekeeping rapport, “you are vastly improved there. But…” He just can’t help himself. “The wet-towel thing? I’d say you have a 60-40 success rate there—at best!”

Michael A. Upton

Alison Singh Gee in Los Angeles