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Organization Fights to Stop 'Real Beverly Hillbillies' Showby David Bloomberg -- 01/14/2003
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Have you ever heard of the Center for Rural Strategies? No? Neither had I until they decided to fight CBS in an attempt to get them to kill the idea for The Real Beverly Hillbillies. As reported here back in August, CBS had commissioned the idea of working on a reality TV version of The Beverly Hillbillies. It is to be a half-hour reality comedy series that follows a lower-middle class family who have been put up in a mansion for a year with maids, personal assistants, a weekly income, etc. At the same time, CBS claimed that the show would respect the family, not mock them. I was - and still am - curious as to how they would do this. But the Center for Rural Strategies is more than curious - they just don't think it will work out that way.
Let's start by looking at just who the Center for Rural Strategies is. By checking out their website, we find that they are an organization seeking to "improve rural life by increasing public understanding about the importance and value of rural communities." OK, sounds good. One of their goals is to "use media strategically to reframe the broad public discourse that defines rural communities." And here is where they come into conflict with CBS.
Last week, the organization ran a quarter-page ad in The New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers. According to a Chicago Tribune article, there are plans to run it in other papers as well. The ad took aim at CBS for making fun of rural people rather than educating the rest of America about the problems present in rural areas:
The organization's website adds their description of what CBS is trying to do:
The producers of the so-called Real Beverly Hillbillies are looking for a low-income, multigenerational family from a rural area to be the real-life cast. They want a family with limited education and minimal exposure to travel.But to them, it's not a joke. They say the show will "ridicule and mock people based on stereotypes and economic status." In the Tribune article, Dee Davis, president of the organization, asks, "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." In response, CBS spokesman Chris Ender said he doesn't see the parallel.
Ouch. Not really a good response.
I think I do see what they are saying - it's not okay to make fun of a black family or a Hispanic family or whatever, but it is apparently okay to make fun of a poor white family. This is all true, as long as you continue in the assumption that the show will indeed make fun of them.
Admittedly, I've said I'm still curious to see how they can have a show like this and not make fun of the family. But if you recall in the actual Beverly Hillbillies show, much of the humor came not from the family but from the reactions of those around the family. We saw something similar in the first episode of The Surreal Life, both when the participants went to the grocery store and when they introduced themselves to their new neighbors. The looks on people's faces were hysterical - and one family refused to even open the door for them! Whether that would be the type of humor found in The Real Beverly Hillbillies is a question that needs to be answered.
Another example of a show that may seem to base its comedy on making fun of others is the hugely popular The Osbournes. Ozzy is falling apart, his kids are nuts, the dogs rule the house, etc. But are we really laughing at them, or with them? After all, it is popular in large part because viewers came to enjoy the family. And which would it be in the case of The Real Beverly Hillbillies?
I have to think that CBS would know better than to have a show that so blatantly would make fun of an entire group of people the way this organization thinks they will. On the other hand, it does worry me that the CBS spokesman didn't seem to understand the parallel provided by the group.
I cannot agree with the organization's call to put a stop to production of the show. Instead, I think they would be better suited by trying to get CBS to talk to them more about their plans for the show. Perhaps they should be working with CBS instead of against them, to accomplish mutual goals. There is no reason the series would have to make fun of poor rural folks. But there may be a way for the group to get their message across - teaching more about rural America - while also providing an entertaining show. I hope they decide to approach it that way rather than fighting it out.
David Bloomberg is the Editor of RealityNewsOnline, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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