By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Making a TV reality show may not be the most obvious way to cope with the sudden death of a loved one, but most families don't count an icon like Whitney Houston among their relatives.
Less than a year after the "I Will Always Love You" singer drowned accidentally in a hotel bath tub after taking cocaine, Houston's teen daughter, her mother, brother and sister-in-law share with the world their struggle to cope in "The Houstons: On Our Own".
Difficult as that is, the Houstons say that making the 14- episode show for cable channel Lifetime has helped rather than hindered the process.
"The show has kept the family close together, (instead of) isolated from one another. We talk about things, we are very open, and we pay attention to the ones who need consoling the most. Doing the show certainly has helped in a huge way," Pat Houston, Whitney's manager and sister-in-law, told Reuters.
"There are preconceptions about the family that just aren't true. We are a strong family, a working family, and a typical family. Our family member just happens to be an icon," she added. "You will see a family that is grieving, that loves one another. You will see a family that is trying to move on."
The series, which makes its debut on Wednesday, sets the stage for a slew of November tributes to the troubled singer with the golden voice. Upcoming projects include an official glossy book of photos, a compilation album of Houston's biggest hits that features a new duet version of "I Look To You" with R. Kelly, and the November 16 TV broadcast of a special Grammy tribute starring Jennifer Hudson, Usher and Celine Dion.
Few of the many public salutes to Houston since her February death have touched on her well-publicized addiction to drugs and her tumultuous personal life. Yet the TV series delves into some of family's thorniest issues.
BOBBI KRISTINA IN SPOTLIGHT
Using some of Houston's soaring ballads to set the tone, including her 2003 single "On My Own", the show opens with the family in their Atlanta, Georgia home days before the first Mother's Day without Whitney and their first visit to her grave.
Her daughter and only heir to the estate, Bobbi Kristina, 19, is finding solace in an alcoholic beverage, and the arms of Nick Gordon, 23, - the teen Whitney Houston took into the family home when he was a troubled high school student.
"We were best friends a long time ago, and now I am in love with him," Bobbi Kristina explains on camera, before telling appalled family members at a dinner that she and Gordon are engaged, and that she is looking to launch a recording career of her own.
Pat Houston, who in the show's first episode is firmly against any engagement, declined to address the couple's current relationship status. "It's a journey. You've just got to watch the show," she told Reuters last week.
The notion of putting Bobbi Kristina in the spotlight so soon after her mother's death, and the singer's messy 2007 divorce from singer Bobby Brown, sparked public dismay when the reality show was announced in May.
Bobbi Kristina was hospitalized twice with anxiety in February 2012 after her mother Houston, 48, was found drowned in a Beverly Hills hotel from what officials later said was a combination of cocaine use and heart disease.
But Pat Houston said that reality shows were nothing new for the Houston clan. Whitney Houston's chaotic relationship with Bobby Brown was chronicled in the 2005 TV series "Being Bobby Brown" and Pat Houston's life as the singer's longtime manager was featured on the more recent show "Power BrokHers".
"We have always been involved in negotiations for a reality show even when Whitney was alive. So this is really no different It's nothing new to the family," she said.
Houston said she hoped the new show would help Whitney's fans come to terms with her death, as much as it is helping the family.
"It is almost giving them closure in seeing the types of people she had around her, and then hearing her music...and (it is a chance) for them to remember the good instead of all the negativity that may have surrounded her life in the past decade," she said.
As for the future, "There will be bumps and grinds as there always will be. But we know how to handle that and keep it moving because we love Whitney, and we love what she represents with her music and we hope her fans continue to do the same with her legacy," Houston said.
(Editing by Andrew Hay)