Thursday, January 16, 2003

'Real Hillbillies' put on hold



LOS ANGELES - Y'all don't come back, ya hear?

That's the feeling at the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky., which appears to have dashed CBS' plans for a Real Beverly Hillbillies reality show.

CBS president Les Moonves admits his network has been unable to find a poor rural family willing to move into a Beverly Hills mansion since announcing the project four months ago.

"We have not yet found a family. We have not even begun production. So we don't know what the future is of the show," he told the Television Critics Association meeting here.

What he didn't tell TV writers was that the CBS hot line numbers for potential participants opened Sept. 9 have been disconnected.

According to fliers distributed in Whitesburg, about 230 miles from Cincinnati in southeastern Kentucky, CBS is willing to pay $100,000 to a rural family for a five-month commitment, and $500,000 for a one-year stay in the big city.

"It sounds like this (show) might not happen," says Dee Davis, director of the nonprofit Whitesburg organization. "I think that (cancellation) would be a victory for rural people, and a significant step in the right direction for CBS.

"We want CBS to rethink about rural America, and what it meant to CBS over the years. Holding this family up to ridicule is not the way to go," he says.

His office phone deep in coal country has been ringing constantly since he spent $75,000 last week on newspapers advertisements in New York, Washington and Cincinnati (home of advertising giant Procter & Gamble) attacking CBS' so-called "hick hunt." A similar ad appeared in the Los Angeles Times Wednesday.

"We figured we had to speak to CBS in communities they care about. They don't care what happens here," Mr. Davis says.

"It does seem like a lot of money, but Moonves and Viacom executives make $75,000 on a good weekday."

Addressing TV critics, Mr. Moonves apologized to anyone offended by the reality show inspired by CBS' 1962-71 Buddy Ebsen sitcom, TV's No. 1 show for two seasons (1962-64).

"It was not in any way, shape or form or intent to demean anybody," he says.

"Oftentimes when you're dealing with reality (TV)... ideas come from all over the place. And sometimes it may appear you're pushing it too far.

"The idea of the show was to question social mores. If you remember the original Beverly Hillbillies, the biggest buffoon in it was the rich guy who lived next door, Mr. Drysdale.

"So it wasn't our intent to offend everybody. I'm sorry if we have."

Mr. Davis seems satisfied with the apology.

"As far as we're concerned, if CBS can retreat from this with dignity, we don't have any problem with that," Mr. Davis says.

But the Kentucky advocate isn't celebrating a victory. He's keeping his eye on ratings for a wide variety of reality shows, everything from The Osbournes to The Bachelorette, Joe Millionaire, High School Reunion and The Surreal Life.

"We're not deluding ourselves. They can say anything now to avoid criticism," Mr. Davis says.

"And when they think the coast is clear, they could bring it out and have a laugh at everybody's expense," he says.

Disco beat: ABC turns the beat around, with The Disco Ball (8-10 p.m. today, Channels 9, 2), a two-hour party taped in Los Angeles.

Performers include the Village People ("YMCA"), Gloria Gaynor ("I Will Survive"), Roselyn Sanchez ("Hot Stuff"), the Pointer Sisters ("Jump"), Mya ("Turn The Beat Around"), and KC and the Sunshine Band ("Shake Your Booty").

TV today: PBS' Frontline/World (9 p.m., Channels 48, 16) provides a rare glimpse into North Korea as two British journalists visit war rallies, museums, farms and an amusement park. Recent defectors also tell BBC reporters Ben Anderson and Will Daws about how North Koreans live in isolation from the rest of the world.


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