No laughs for real-life Clampetts

September 08, 2002|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

DEAR CBS Television:

I've got this pal. Native of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. Among her friends, she's been known to refer to herself as "Hill Mama." And that dialect she speaks? Well, that's "Hill-bonics."

Which is appropriate, because it really is like another language. I remember once, we got into a discussion about something she called "pah." It took the longest time to figure out that she was referring to that dessert that is sometimes eaten a la mode.

Anyway, I started thinking about Hill Mama when I heard about your plan to revive the old Beverly Hillbillies sitcom as a reality show. As I understand it, you're searching the country -- or at least, the southern part of it -- for an unsophisticated family that lives in some isolated rural area. We're talking -- there's no polite way to say this -- rubes. The kind of people who keep junk cars in the yard and have some old hound dog tied up to a pole. The kind who've never surfed the Net, nor flown on a plane, nor taken a cruise, nor, indeed, ever traveled farther than the next county over. The kind for whom indoor plumbing might qualify as one of the wonders of the world.

Apparently, the idea of The New Beverly Hillbillies is to transplant this family to a mansion in the 90210 ZIP code and give them scads of money with which to buy designer clothes, fancy cars and meals in five-star restaurants. Hilarity ensues.

I was going to suggest that Hill Mama might be perfect for your show, but it occurred to me that she's probably been ruined by too many years of city living. I've seen her front yard -- not a single junk car in it. Then, too, there's the matter of her wishing you would eat fertilizer and die.

You're going to be stunned to hear this, but it turns out my friend thinks your idea is, well ... offensive to people from the South. Not to mention people with taste.

It's been suggested to her that she's overreacting. After all, fish-out-of-water comedies have been a Hollywood staple for years. Her response is that unlike, say, The Jeffersons, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or even the original Hillbillies, the participants in this comedy will not be actors playing parts, but people living lives. She thinks there's a good chance they won't understand there's a joke here and they are it.

It's also been pointed out to my friend that the creators of this new show say it will be funny without being mean. She seems to find that promise less than credible. Apparently, she's unaware of the entertainment community's reputation for integrity and moral fiber.

Obviously, there's no reasoning with the woman, though I'll keep trying. In the meantime, I wanted to suggest a few ideas for fish-out-of-water sequels in case The New Beverly Hillbillies is a hit.

For your next show, maybe you could give a struggling black family from the Bronx a summer in the Hamptons. Transfer orthodox Jewish college students from Tel Aviv University to Atlanta Baptist College. Take a primitive tribesman to Disney World. Or transplant some TV executive to anyplace where restaurants don't serve no-whip decaffeinated mocha lattes and people punch timeclocks. Ha ha! Don't you chuckle just thinking about it?

See, what people like Hill Mama fail to understand is that you are Hollywood, by-gum, Califor-nye-yay. You are the dream factory, the status giver, the life validator. Every moment of every day, you show us your perfect people with perfect teeth smiling perfect smiles in perfect houses. Naturally, everybody wants to be like that.

Perfect. What else is there? What other standard exists? And when we fall short, as we frequently do, why shouldn't you laugh? Why shouldn't you package and sell our lives for entertainment purposes? What higher purpose can those lives serve?

Anyway, let me know what you think of my ideas. Like most people, I am desperately unhappy with my circumstances and know that things could be so much better if I worked in Hollywood. So I'll be camped out by the mailbox, waiting to hear from you.

Y'all write back now, y'hear?

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. He may be reached via e-mail at lpitts@herald.com or by calling toll-free at 1-888-251-4407.

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