Mar. 2, 2003: Not to CBS: How’s This For Reality?

As if television programming wasn’t already dragging the bottom of the intellectual barrel, now comes word that CBS is working on a new reality series intended to confirm the lingering stereotype that everybody in the South lives on dirt roads and marries their cousins.

The program is called “The Real Beverly Hillbillies.” According to the network, the idea is to take a poor rural family from the deepest reaches of Appalachia, put them in a swanky mansion in Beverly Hills complete with maids and cement pond, film their befuddlement and then put it on television for the rest of the country’s amusement. “It’s a great fish-out-of-water story,” says Ghen Maynard, a CBS vice president in charge of nothing in particular. I’ve got a better idea, Ghen. If “fish out of water” stuff turns you on, why don’t we dress you in a lavender tutu and park your fanny in a Long County tavern on a Saturday night?

Our senior senator, Zell Miller, a bona-fide hillbilly and damned proud of it, is outraged at the idea of making national sport of the South. “Can you imagine this kind of program being suggested that would disrespect an African-American family or denigrate a Latino family?” Miller thundered recently on the floor of the U.S. Senate. No sir, Senator. Not unless CBS wants to ensure that Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Warriors would be camped in their lobby chanting rhymes before the sun went down.

The truth is the networks can’t afford to make fun of anybody but Southerners because everybody else, from gays to Guadaloupe, has media-savvy special-interest groups that will get in your face if you do. They will set up picket lines, boycott the networks’ advertisers and make a high-profile nuisance of themselves, so why bother? Besides, no one seems willing to stick up for the South except for one lone senator. We just have to grin and bear it. Or do we?

Maybe we need to get on the offensive and suggest that CBS look at some alternate programming. The network moguls should consider a show featuring, like, a family from, like, Los Angeles. Someone could, like, sneak in and, like, hide their Chardonnay and skateboards and make them, like, sit down and, like, try to make a complete sentence without using the word, “like.” We could call the show “The Guiding Like.”

Or, how about a reality series based on a bunch of bleached-out snowbirds from Canada and Vermont who come to South Georgia in January and sit by the motel pool in 40-degree weather because the warmest it ever gets back home is 42 degrees. And that’s only during one week in August.

Maybe we could interest the network in a neat show called “You’ve Got to Be Kidding!” The premise of the program would be to find a couple from the South whose burning ambition is to retire and move to Detroit. In addition to a snow shovel and burglar bars, the winning contestants would receive a free copy of the one-page book, “The Best of Northern Cuisine.”

There is also a potential network hit entitled “Who Talks Funny?” The show would gather a group of New Yorkers in a room and let viewers try to decipher one-word sentences, like “Fuhgeduhbowud.” The challenge would be in trying to hear the participants. Since everybody is from New York, they would all be talking at the same time.

If none of this appeals to CBS, maybe the network will agree to the ultimate reality show in which a well-dressed and highly sophisticated network executive from Los Angeles goes to Washington and politely explains to a highly agitated Southern senator, who is also a former marine, that the network is going ahead with “The Real Beverly Hillbillies” because their research department has done surveys showing that people in the rest of the country enjoy laughing at ignorant hicks from the South. At that point, the senator wads up a collard green, sticks it up the network executive’s nose and then passes a law requiring all CBS executives to move to Detroit and eat northern cooking for the rest of their careers. Now, that is reality television I could go for!