Group says Y'all don't come back now, y'hear?

A new 'Hillbillies' would be degrading

January 08, 2003|By Heather Svokos | Heather Svokos,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Ever since CBS announced in August its plans for a reality show based on The Beverly Hillbillies, people in the Appalachian community have been crying foul.

Yesterday, they hoped to knock the show - and the stereotype - right out of the park.

With quarter-page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky., has officially launched its campaign to try to derail The Real Beverly Hillbillies.

"The brass at CBS clearly think it's safe to make fun of and commercialize low-income rural folks," Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, said in an accompanying press release. "We intend to lessen their comfort zone and make them rethink this premise."

The show, according to CBS, is to "follow the adventures of a large family when they move out of their rural home and settle into a Beverly Hills mansion ... [and] live in the lap of luxury."

It is planned for either a spring or summer launch, and has not been cast yet, said CBS spokesman Chris Ender.

The ad directs people to offer feedback on the campaign's Web site, at Davis says Rural Strategies, a public advocacy organization, plans to run a second battery of ads, possibly in papers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Nashville, during the next week to 10 days.

The cost of yesterday's three ads was $75,000, Davis says.

From the outset, CBS has defended The Real Beverly Hillbillies, calling it a fish-out-of-water story.

"We're very mindful of the concerns expressed," said Ender. "It's certainly not the intention of the producers, and not the intention of CBS to humiliate [anyone] or perpetuate any stereotypes.

"We think the key to the show is finding the right family - a family that's very proud of their origins and a very loving family. We think that a show can be broadcast featuring a family that city folks will root for and that people from the country will be proud of.

"Fish-out-of-water themes have been a staple in movies and television for many years - from Pretty Woman to Crocodile Dundee to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And the fish that's out of water has always been the hero or heroine."

But it's still making fun, says Davis. He's ruffled by comments like that of another CBS executive, Ghen Maynard, who in August said: "Imagine the episode where they have to interview maids."

Other people, he said, have asked questions such as: Will they ask the butler to sit down and eat with them? Will Granny be able to operate the microwave?

"It's all about looking down at this family as if they're strange, out-of-step, weird people," Davis said. "Who else could they look down on but poor people in a rural family?

"If they went into the barrio in Los Angeles and took a newly immigrated family from Mexico and put them in a mansion with the idea that the audience would laugh at them if they couldn't work the appliances, I think that that show would be so objectionable that they would know not to go there."

But, he says, poor rural Americans are still seen as fair game.

Ender says he doesn't see the parallel. "I certainly disagree," he said. "It's certainly quite possible that the show will demonstrate the absurdity of urban existence, which has often been the case in these fish-out-of-water stories."

When pressed on what, exactly, the difference would be in transplanting a rural family vs. a Mexican family in Beverly Hills, Ender wouldn't elaborate.

"I'm just going to disagree," he said. Later, he added: "I would hope that those concerned would reserve judgment until they see the program."

Davis and others aren't hopeful. "Rural people have enough to deal with," Davis said. "They don't need CBS to have one more laugh at their expense."

The whole thing makes Patty Wallace of Louisa, Ky., recall the film Network. "I just think: `What else can they do?' I feel like Peter Finch when he was yelling out the window: `I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore.'

"We're ignored in every way where we need help ... ," says Wallace, a member of the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission and past head of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a citizens advocacy group. "It's like we don't matter.

"And now they want to come in and make fun, and want to do something degrading."

Aside from hoping to shame the network, Davis also hopes to open the eyes of advertisers and others associated with CBS' parent company.

"What about the Viacom shareholders?" he says. "In this time where we're really looking at corporate ethics and asking corporations to be responsible, and at a time we're asking all Americans to pull together, it seems quite unusual that they want to take this cheap shot at 56 million rural Americans. ... At one time, CBS was considered `the Tiffany network.' Where are those standards now?"

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