Campaign to stop "The Real Beverly Hillbillies"
In 2003 the Center for Rural Strategies launched a national campaign to stop CBS Television from producing "The Real Beverly Hillbillies," a reality show based the network's old sit-com. The concept of the show was simple: Take a poor family from rural America and set them up in California with all the trappings of affluence. Then let the cameras roll as the family copes with rich neighbors, electronic gadgets, and cultural clashes. "Imagine the episode where they have to interview maids," said one CBS executive.
CBS defended the proposed reality series as a classic "fish-out-of-water" story. But Rural Strategies and thousands of people and organizations across the country said the network was going too far in setting up rural America for ridicule based on misunderstanding and intentional stereotyping. After months of activities that included ads in the New York Times and other major newspapers, an email and fax campaign, extensive press coverage, a meeting with CBS President Leslie Moonves, and a protest with United Mine Workers outside a stockholders' meeting of Viacom, which owns the TV network, CBS dropped the proposed series.
The campaign not only killed the series. It launched a new kind of national conversation about the future of rural America and the relationship of metropolitan and rural communities. For Rural Strategies, the "Rural Reality Campaign," as we called it, demonstrated the power of communications to mobilize the public conscience in support of fairness for rural people and others who find themselves at the margins of the nation's culture and economy.
This report (PDF) written midway through the campaign to stop the "Real Beverly Hillbillies" discusses the Center for Rural Strategies' methods to use media and communication as means to unite rural activists.
Hundreds of groups and individuals joined our fight to stop "The Real Beverly Hillbillies." They ranged from labor unions, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, small-town businesses, artists and entertainers, and others. The coalition includes organizations like these (among many):
- The Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) represents over 320,000 workers in the paper, oil, chemical, automotive parts, atomic energy, industrial minerals, grain processing and cement industries.
- The Sacramento Central Labor Council AFL-CIO represents 140,000 working families in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Yolo, and Sacramento Counties in central California.
Op/eds, columns, and letters about reality TV and rural America.
"Gold in Them Thar Hillbillies" by Fenton Johnson
"Up From CBS Comes Bubbling Crudity" by Rudy Abramson
"Wires, Lights, and Ridiculte in a Box"by Dee Davis
"Hillbillies Get Organized" by Anne Shelby
"The Poor in Rural America are Not Laughing" by Loyal Jones
"Letter to CBS" by Senator Sam Brownback (PDF)
"A Slap in the Face" by Representative Hal Rogers
"Letter to the Center of Rural Strategies" by Sentor Kit Bond
"CBS as a ethics-free zone" by Senator Zell Miller
"Letter to Viacom, Inc." by Congressman Ed Whitfield
"Common Decency" by Mike Huckabee