Reality TV heads to the South

Kate Archer Kent Feb 17, 2012

Adriene Hill: The 20th Season of “The Amazing Race” starts Sunday — adding a whole new roster of reality TV stars. We’ve got unlimited “Real Housewives” shows, competition shows on almost all the time. And now producers are casting a broader net for stories and voices.

Kate Archer Kent of Red River Radio reports.

Kate Archer Kent: Thirty-seven-year-old Aimee Pitts is an office secretary. She’ll be the first to tell you she’s a hick. She went deer hunting before our interview.

Aimee Pitts: We are country rednecks. We love to be in the woods, or on the water, or definitely outside. Everything is outside.

But last summer she left her comfort zone for five weeks. Pitts and a dozen family members lived in a beach mansion in East Hampton, N.Y., shooting CMT’s reality TV series “My Big Redneck Vacation.” The family played polo, dined at hoity-toity restaurants with help from an etiquette coach, and socialized with highfalutin society folk. Pitts says the contrasting lifestyles made for funny TV.

Pitts: I think Louisiana just got discovered for the reality world. They realize there is a whole ‘nother world here. And we do have some characters. That’s no doubt.

CMT enjoyed its highest ratings ever when “My Big Redneck Vacation” debuted last month alongside another reality show featuring a Louisiana family. It’s called “Bayou Billionaires.” CMT vice president Lewis Bogach says producers are finally discovering quirky characters in the Deep South.

Lewis Bogach: We sort of have spent the last however many years, 50 years, being sort of locked into Los Angeles and New York. And there’s a whole country out there.

Louisiana appreciates the attention, but what the state really wants are big-budget productions, like movies and scripted TV series. Chris Stelly is the head of film development for Louisiana. He says reality TV projects don’t normally hit the state’s $300,000 threshold to qualify for tax credits.

Chris Stelly: Overall, in our total book of business, reality shows are really less than 10 percent of everything that we do.

Lewis Bogach doesn’t know where CMT will take the “Redneck” theme next. But as a New Yorker, he says it’s refreshing to produce shows starring people who aren’t so stressed and uptight — like himself.

In Shreveport, La., I’m Kate Archer Kent for Marketplace.

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