They'll sit and talk about the most intimate subjects on live television: their fears, their families and their feelings about the men -- or boys -- who got them pregnant and maybe aren't part of their lives anymore. Mostly, the eight Washington-area women will talk about the babies growing in their wombs.
For the next six months, until a few weeks after their babies are born, these women, who range in age from 15 to 36, will be the focus of "Nine Months," an unusual weekly documentary that premieres today at noon on WETA-TV (Channel 26) and will be rebroadcast Saturdays at noon and Sundays at 7 p.m.
The public television station calls "Nine Months" its most ambitious documentary ever, a weekly series that will capture all parts of pregnancy: clinic and doctor visits, birthing classes, scenes in the women's homes and, in some cases, the actual birth.
The actions of the women -- or girls, in at least two cases -- that could affect the well-being of the babies they are carrying will be scrutinized and dissected on camera.
The spontaneous, real-life events that occur will be recorded by the ubiquitous camera and will, its producers hope, make "Nine Months" as gripping as the prime-time soap opera "Dallas" once was.
But unlike "Dallas," no one, from the producers to the audience, knows in advance what will happen. Each week, three or four of the women will be featured. Once a month, a portion of the show will be devoted to call-in comments and questions.
The idea, as has been tried with other public service television programming, is to reach Washington area women who are at risk of having low birthweight babies and who contribute to the District's tragic infant mortality rate -- 23 deaths per 1,000 births, a rate about twice the national average and higher than that of many underdeveloped countries.
Ideally, the producers wanted women ranging in age from the mid-teens to the early forties, representing varying income levels as well as ethnic and racial groups. They came close.
Television has been tried before as a way to connect with at-risk mothers, but it has not had a perceptible impact. "Nine Months" may have a few advantages. The producers are hoping to reach people who don't watch public television, through a distribution program that will provide the series to schools, clinics, churches and other community groups.
Lori -- only first names will be used on the show -- is 26, divorced and lives with her 7-year-old daughter in Southeast Washington. She is about five months pregnant and having a hard time. She has had physical problems and had to stop working. Her ex-husband is not this baby's father, she says, who "isn't around much either."
She has a friend "not a boyfriend," she notes, "my best friend I grew up with" who supports her financially. "We made a pact years ago and I helped him when he needed it and now he says it's his turn to help me."
Lori is grateful to him and to the D.C. General Hospital prenatal clinic, where she has checkups every two weeks because of her high-risk status.
Being on "Nine Months" is good for her because, she says, "it keeps me from climbing the walls.
"I've been on my own since I was 15, she says, "and I want to try to get across to those promiscuous teenagers out there that they've got to use some protection."
Lori's own pregnancy was a shock, but abortion, she says, was "out of the question." She said she had one five years ago and it took her years to recover emotionally.
Eliska is 19, single, an employee at a fast-food carryout and pregnant with her second baby. She was 14 the first time; her mother was "great support," she says.
"She got me to prenatal care and stuff; now I want to help other teenagers know that just because you have a baby, you can still make it." Eliska and her daughter live with her mother; the father of her unborn child "comes by every day," she says.
Richard Hutton, executive producer of "Nine Months," says that the show's success depends in part on the drama and immediacy that live television offers. "All sorts of things could happen along the way that were unexpected," he says. Hutton says he is interested in presenting the emotional aspects of the lives of these future mothers and letting "the education take care of itself."
That means leaving the "eat this, don't eat that, don't drink, don't smoke or do dope" messages to the community outreach program WETA has devised to accompany the series.
WETA producer Darcy Corcoran and her team interviewed nearly 100 women and teenagers for the program. Initially, they were planning on six participants but in the end were unable to eliminate any of the final eight.
"Look, it may not work," Hutton acknowledges, "but it's a shot nobody else has taken."