The reality is, a TV show would be fun

Gary Abernathy/The Times-Gazette

November 25, 2013

How much fun would it be for Hillsboro and its mayor to be the subject of a reality television show?

Not much, according to some folks. A lot of fun, and an economic boost, according to others.

I fall into the latter camp. My general reaction is, why not? If you heard that a reality television show was going to be focused on a local southern Ohio community like Wilmington, Chillicothe or Portsmouth, most people here would ask, “Why not Hillsboro? We’re more interesting than they are.”

Life is an adventure, right? As Forrest Gump’s mother would say, it’s a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get, except you’re going to get chocolate, and everybody loves chocolate. Hillsboro’s history has been full of ups and downs, exciting times and depressing times, triumphs and tragedies.

If a reality TV show comes, and puts Hillsboro in the national spotlight for a while, it will also just as surely end someday, as all such shows do, and life will pretty much return to normal, whatever normal is. Why not add the experience to the city’s history book?

This concept is different from an idea Hastings himself had three or four years ago. Before running for mayor (although he was clearly thinking about it) Hastings pitched a reality show idea in 2010 focused on his travails as a fledgling farmer. A “sizzle reel” clip of it is still on YouTube, and there’s no part of it that is embarrassing to Hillsboro or Highland County, by the way.

Still, there are undoubtedly those who worry about how Hillsboro would be portrayed by such a program. Would we be presented as a nice, quiet town with a wide array of smart, hardworking people who love their city, their state and their country? Or would we be Rube City, a collection of unsophisticated hillbillies only slightly smarter than dirt?

From talking with the producer of the proposed project, Jon Taylor, I’m convinced that the goal is to present Hillsboro just as it is, with no agenda to make it look one way or the other. I think Mr. Taylor envisions Hillsboro as the best of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, rather than the worst of Eddie Albert’s Hooterville (although “Green Acres” was a hilarious show with lovable characters).

But who cares? Hillsboro is what it is, regardless of how it is portrayed on a television show. If we are made out to be Rube City, does that make us Rube City? No. There are people who spend a lot of time worrying about what other people think of them, never quite realizing that what other people think of them is irrelevant. It is what we really are that matters.

Those of us who live in Hillsboro know that we live in a great community. That truth will remain the truth regardless of how the city might be portrayed on a TV show. And regardless of how it might be portrayed, the fact that it would be portrayed in any fashion coast-to-coast would be great fun, and undoubtedly boost the economy in a number of ways. It would be an adventure, one that would be a shame to pass up because of our own insecurities.

The hook for the show is Drew Hastings’ journey from standup comedian to farmer to small town mayor, and his adventures and interactions with the people of Hillsboro. I’m sure that a wide array of citizens, from among those who agree to participate, would be featured, and certainly that would include some of our more “colorful” characters.

So be it – Hillsboro is made up of all sorts of people, whether we want to admit it or not. The show would likely offer an accurate reflection of our community, which is perhaps what worries some folks.

To me, it’s irrelevant whether Hillsboro is portrayed “accurately” or not, because even the people of Hillsboro would likely not agree among themselves on what an “accurate” portrayal would be. What appeals to me is that it’s just one more interesting adventure on this journey we call life. Something different. Why not see what happens? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I write enthusiastically about this idea with the caveat that I am generally no fan of “reality” television, because most of it is silly. But as Mr. Taylor noted, the latest trend is moving away from “urban conflict” - the “Real Housewives” and “Jersey Shore” fits and fights – and into a warmer, more authentic theme represented by shows like “Duck Dynasty.” And if it does poke fun here and there, are we really not able to laugh at ourselves once in a while?

Love it or hate it, this thing is a long way from becoming, pardon the pun, reality. First, they produce a “sizzle reel” and shop that around. If there’s interest, they’ll produce a pilot episode. If there’s interest in that, they’ll produce a few episodes. If the episodes receive decent ratings, they’ll produce more episodes. Sizzle reel to pilot to episodes to hit show is a thousand-mile journey with roadblocks every step of the way.

One online source I looked up says, “Of every 50 scripts commissioned, around 10 or fewer are selected to be produced as pilots. It’s estimated that about two-thirds of pilot television shows developed in America never even make it to air. The major networks usually order about 20 pilots per season, and of those, around 6 are chosen to be premiere episodes.” So before anyone gets too excited or too upset by the idea they should take a deep breath.

I do admire the mayor’s position that before he signs off on it he will get city council’s input. When I interviewed him about it on Friday, he was adamant that he would not proceed with it if it seemed like the city was opposed to it.

Nevertheless, it will be up to us in the end whether this thing flies or not. After all, if they portray us as anything other than the sophisticated, erudite, refined and cultured people that we are, we’ll just grab our pitchforks and run them out of town.

Gary Abernathy can be contacted at gabernathy@civitasmedia.com.