Casting Call for Poor rural families!!?


root - Posted on 01 June 2003

by TJ Johnston/PNN

THE PITCH: "Put out a call for poor rural families for a reality show. Parents in their 40s, their children ages 17 to 25 and throw in grandparents and other kin for good measure. Take the family out of their surroundings, move them to a mansion in LA and videotape their fish-out-of-water antics. Pay them half a million dollars for their trouble. Bill it as an update of The Beverly Hillbillies and hilarity will ensue."

As such programs as "Joe Millionaire" and "The Bachelorette" proliferate, a rural activist might keep "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" from making the pilot stage.

Credit Dee Davis, executive director of the Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies, for gumming the works at CBS. Davis's non-profit collected money to buy ad space in the New York Times, USA Today and other major papers denouncing the network's plans and attitudes towards the nation's country-folk.

The progress on the program? CBS spokesman Chris Ender says, "It's a program in development and we're not sure where we're going with it. We have no further comment." For now, auditions for a contemporary Clampett family have stalled.

Davis would like CBS to put the kibosh on displaying "poor, white trash" stereotypes. "They're looking to put them in a fishbowl so everybody could look at it as a comedy. We think they're crossing a line." The criterion for CBS's "hick hunt" insists that the family has little formal education and travel experience.

To refresh your memories, "The Beverly Hillbillies" revolved around the Clampetts, an Ozark family who accidentally discover bubbling crude oil on their land. The suddenly wealthy clan then migrate westward to Beverly Hills, replete with "swimming pools and movie stars." The family comprised of patriarch Jed, mother-in-law Granny, daughter Ellie Mae and cousin Jethro.

The original sitcom from the '60's, Davis points out, cast actors pretending to be these characters and required a suspension of disbelief. Often, the Clampetts' sensibilities prevailed over Southern California frivolity and class-consciousness.

Flash forward to today, where network suits ponder about an episode where they interview maids. "They need to splash cold water on their face and make money another way besides laughing at people less fortunate," Davis continues. Rural Strategies has partnered with some 40 organizations (including Tolerance.org and the Independent Television Services) in waking up CBS about marginalizing a significant population.

According to their web site, the "flyover" area is home to over 56 million, a population comparable to France, Italy or Great Britain. It's also an ethnically diverse sampling: 50% are Native Americans, 15% African-Americans, 9% Latinos (representing the fastest growing population) and 5% Asian-Pacific Islanders. Less than two per cent earn their living in agriculture, with the balance in service and industrial sector jobs. Their median household income is 20% less than their urban counterparts. They also have higher poverty rates than people in metropolitan areas.

Suffice it to say, that's a world far removed from CBS chairman Les Moonves, his associates and bosses at Viacom.

"How hard is it," Davis implores, "to find a hard-working and talented family? Not hard, I think."

Besides, if the corporate media needs to poke fun at a formerly impoverished person in plush surroundings, Anna Nicole Smith is on E!

To learn more or participate in the campaign, contact the Center for Rural Strategies at info@ruralstrategies.org or (606) 632-3244. You could also call CBS's Feedback line (212) 975-3242 or log onto to their web site. For a unique perspective, read "Hillbilly Slams CBS" (Jan. 28, 2003) on poormagazine.org.

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