- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

Fussing and feuding? Yes indeed, all based on a story 'bout a man named Jed.
Convinced there's some hillbilly discrimination afoot, the Kentucky-based Center for Rural Strategies spent $75,000 on newspaper advertisements yesterday to protest CBS' new reality TV series based on the old "Beverly Hillbillies."
In the last five months, the network has been poking about the hills and hollows of Kentucky, Arkansas, West Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri and Tennessee in search of a real backwoods family willing to live as city slickers in a California mansion complete with maids, personal assistants and 24-hour-a-day video cameras.
A gleeful press dubbed the effort "The Osbournes on moonshine" and "Must see hee-haw TV," among other things.
The premise of the new show irks Dee Davis, president of the advocacy group, which says it aims to increase "public understanding about the importance and value of rural communities." He accuses CBS of humiliating rural families.
"Let's suppose some producer found an immigrant family from Mexico, put them in a Beverly Hills mansion then went for laughs when they didn't know how to turn on the appliances," Mr. Davis said yesterday..
"CBS needs some cold water in their face," he said. "People were calling this a 'hick hunt.' It's cruel burlesque, singling out hard-working people for ridicule."
Mr. Davis added that there are some 56 million rural Americans who would not appreciate what CBS initially called "a fish-out-of-water story," patterned after the 1960s sitcom, which drew up to 60 million weekly viewers from 1965-71.
Those fictional natives of the Ozark Mountains Jed, Granny, Ellie Mae and Jethro remain beloved pop culture icons decades after they ruled the airwaves.
But newfangled "The Real Beverly Hillbillies" is not quite a reality yet.
"We have no production date we haven't even found the family," said CBS spokesman Chris Enders yesterday.
"We are very mindful of the concern expressed in the ads. CBS has no intention of humiliating or stereotyping anyone," he said. "We want our viewers to root for this family, and the family themselves to feel proud."
Such programming has been part of American entertainment for decades, Mr. Enders said.
"Most of the time, these old movies and TV shows were a real sendup of city slickers, and they validated the country way of thinking," he said.
The idea already has imitators. Days after CBS announced intentions to cast the show in August, Fox proclaimed it would produce a reality show based on "Green Acres," featuring a moneyed or celebrity family, roughing it in the hills.
Meanwhile, more rural folks have joined the campaign against CBS.
The Kentucky Black Lung Association, the Kentucky Appalachian Commission, Arkansas' state economic director Jim Pickens, some school systems and many newspapers have called the network to task.
"Maybe you could give a struggling black family from the Bronx a summer in the Hamptons. Transfer Orthodox Jewish college students from Tel Aviv University to Atlanta Baptist College," the Miami Herald advised CBS.
Still, some backwoods merriment finds a ready audience. Kentucky's Pike County, for example, fully embraces its rural heritage through annual "Hillbilly Days" celebrations, complete with a goofy mountaineer and moonshine-jug logo.
"There's a difference between that and what CBS wants to do," said rural advocate Mr. Davis, whose organization plans to buy more ad space in California and Tennessee newspapers.
"CBS is taking a cheap shot at a whole segment of society who may be poor, but they're real," he said. "I thought CBS used to be the gold standard for uplifting, decent family programming. Their idea is not uplifting, and it's not decent either."

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