A "Hillbilly" Hullabaloo
Tue Jan 7, 6:15 PM ET
By Lia Haberman
CBS is digging for bubbling crude, and the kinfolk are none too pleased.
An Appalachian advocacy group has placed ads in some of the country's largest newspapers today opposing a hick-ish reality series the group says ridicules rural people.
The proposed CBS show is based on the net's popular '60s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. The Eye network wants to move a poor Appalachian family, complete with Granny (teeth optional), from their mountain shack into a luxurious Beverly Hills mansion for a year and tape the ensuing culture shock for your viewing pleasure.
Casting agents began "combing mountainous rural regions" in the South in September, said a CBS spokesman at the time. A hotline the network had established to field calls from potential Hillbillies has since been disconnected. The show is scheduled to air in spring or summer.
On Tuesday, ads from the Center for Rural Strategies, a public advocacy group based in Whitesburg, Kentucky, appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today. The organization accuses the network of conducting a "hick hunt" to find a stereotypical redneck family ripe for ridicule.
The group claims CBS producers have handed out fliers in grocery stores offering a finder's fee to the bounty person who brings the right multi-generational clan of backwater kin to their attention.
Given the financial incentive, "you can understand why a poor family might take this deal, but what do you make of a network going around delivering Faustian bargains?" asked CRS president Dee Davis.
The ads, which cost $75,000 to place, encourage people to register their opposition to CBS and its advertisers on the rags-to-riches series via the group's Website, www.ruralstrategies.org.
More ads are expected to run in papers across the country during the next week.
"The brass at CBS clearly think it's safe to make fun of and commercialize low-income rural folks," said Davis in a statement. "We intend to lessen their comfort zone and make them re-think this premise."
For its part, CBS downplayed the controversy. "It's not our intent to humiliate or perpetuate stereotypes," said CBS spokesman Chris Ender.
"The fish-out-of-water theme has been a staple in television and movies for years," Ender added. "Typically these scenarios shed light on the absurdity of the urban existence and often validate rural and country values."
The Real Beverly Hillbillies is based on the fake Beverly Hillbillies, which aired on CBS from 1962 to 1971.
The show revolved around the Clampett clan, who moved to Hollywood after poor patriarch Jed struck black gold, oil, that is. Jed packed his kin--Granny, Elly May and Jethro--into a truck and moved the family to Beverly, Hills, that is, where they lived the good life amid movie stars and swimming pools.
Fish-out-of-water tales, like E!'s Anna Nicole Show and MTV's the Osbournes, are the current cash cows of reality television. What is Anna Nicole Smith, after all, but a poor Texas girl who struck marital gold? And what is Ozzy Osbourne but a heavy-metal rocker who moved his brood to a Beverly Hills mansion?
Fox will also try to cash in on that thar gold concept with its modern-day spin on Green Acres. Network execs say they will send a high-falutin' family out to a country shack stripped of conveniences and watch them wallow in the muck. No word on when the show will hit the air.