Thursday, April 17, 2003

Appalachian coal miners may go to N.Y. to protest hillbilly show

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

PIKEVILLE - Appalachian coal miners may go to New York to protest plans by CBS to produce a reality television series called The Real Beverly Hillbillies.

Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said members of his union may attend the annual shareholders meeting of Viacom, the parent company of CBS, unless plans for the show are canceled.

"This plan - to take a poor rural family, place them in a Hollywood mansion and ridicule them on national television - is repugnant to me and to the union members I represent," Roberts wrote in a letter to Viacom's top executives.

Across the Appalachian region, people have been voicing strong opposition to the proposed reality show, a take off from the original Beverly Hillbillies sitcom, which ran on CBS from 1962 to 1971 and which remains a staple of TV Land.

That show, about a poor mountaineer who became rich when he struck oil on his mountain property, was at one time television's No. 1 program, attracting up to 60 million viewers weekly.

Roberts, who has been arrested 10 times at protests his union has staged across the country, said mocking rural families is inappropriate.

Roberts led some 200 shouting, sign-toting coal miners in a protest against a company in eastern Kentucky last year. He and 10 others were taken to jail for trespassing after they sat down in a road and refused to leave.

Last month, 43 members of the U.S. House of Representatives representing states from Florida to Texas asked that plans for the show be canned.

In a joint letter to CBS President Leslie Moonves, the congressmen expressed outrage over the proposed program. U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., called the planned show "trash that should have no place on the public airwaves."

The Center for Rural Strategies, an Appalachian advocacy group in Whitesburg, has placed ads in some of the country's largest newspapers, criticizing the proposed reality TV series as demeaning to rural people.

Tim Marerna, vice president of the advocacy group, said he hopes the coal miners' union, with 100,000 members, can help to derail the show.

"I would think a protest by miners would be the last thing Viacom would want at its annual meeting," Marerna said. "The union's stand on this show is one more indication to how widespread opposition to this program is."

Representatives at Viacom and CBS didn't immediately return telephone calls Wednesday afternoon.

Roberts said producing the show would be a bad business decision for Viacom.

"I guarantee you our membership will be offended and repulsed when they see that CBS' sole purpose is to make fun, degrade and humiliate the rural way of life," he said. "Mocking any group of our citizens at this time is completely uncalled for."

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