An independent television producer and the production company behind several popular shows are exploring the possibility of a reality TV program focused on Hillsboro and its comedian-turned-mayor, Drew Hastings.
But Hastings said Friday that if the show reaches the point where a network is interested in picking it up, he would consult with city council before signing off on it.
Jon Taylor, a veteran independent Hollywood producer, said Friday from Los Angeles that he has known Hastings since his days as a stand-up comedian in L.A., and has followed his travels to Highland County and his political career.
“I thought it was a matter of time before he became a star in L.A.,” said Taylor. “But he got worn out by the trappings of Hollywood.” Taylor found it “fascinating” that Hastings relocated to rural southern Ohio, bought a farm, and then got elected Hillsboro’s mayor.
“It’s not your typical second act,” said Taylor.
Taylor said Hastings was initially reluctant when the reality show idea was pitched. “He said, ‘This is what some people always said would happen,’” said Taylor. “It took some wooing on my part, to say the least. I am the pursuer.”
Anticipating criticism that the show might make fun of Hillsboro or present its residents in a negative light, Taylor said the opposite would be true. Taylor said reality television is moving away from “urban conflict” shows and into programs that reflect a more authentic concept of rural or small-time life, such as “Duck Dynasty,” the hit program focusing on the lives of the Robertson family, who became successful with a family-operated business, Duck Commander.
“The trend now is toward a softer and warmer, less belligerent theme,” said Taylor. “And I hope it keeps going.”
Hastings agreed Friday he was not initially anxious to do the show, and still has reservations. “I don’t even own a television,” said Hastings.
Hastings spoke by phone as he was driving to Bloomington, Ill., to do a benefit show to raise money for the Washington, Ill., Chamber of Commerce, with all proceeds going toward relief efforts for the region which was devastated by last week’s tornadoes.
“I’m not necessarily crazy about this idea,” he said of the reality show. “My first reaction was, thanks but no thanks. But then I thought, I owe it to the city to present the possibility, because a lot of money could come into the town and the businesses. The question is, is it good for Hillsboro?”
During the 2011 campaign, one of Hastings’s campaign pitches was that he could use “whatever celebrity status I have” to bring attention and economic development to Hillsboro. But he said Friday that if the proposed reality show seems like it’s really going to happen, he would discuss it with city council before moving forward with it.
“This is like a big employer coming to town,” said Hastings. “It’s only going to happen if there’s a firm commitment to our economic development, in hard dollars.”
Taylor, an independent producer for more than 20 years, has been involved with such shows as “Rescue 911,” “Unsolved Mysteries,” “Clean House” and other programs featured on Spike, History, Style and other cable networks.
He said for now, he envisions a show based on the concept of Hastings going from a comedian based in Los Angeles to a neophyte farmer and then small-town mayor, and his experiences and interactions with local residents – including his critics. “We are definitely looking to include people who are critical of him,” said Taylor.
Scenes of Hastings going about his job and interacting with local residents might be intercut with scenes of him performing his stand-up routine on weekends in various locales, hearkening back to early episodes of “Seinfeld,” which often opened and closed with the comedian’s stage monologue book-ending each episode.
Taylor said the first step is to produce - in conjunction with Authentic Entertainment, the production company also involved in the concept - a “sizzle reel” that would be shopped around to networks. If there is interest, a pilot would be produced, and if that got the green light, a full-blown show would be put into production.
Taylor said he has seen the benefits that come to a community featured on a hit television series. “It does two things,” he said. “First, you have a reasonably-sized crew spending four months a year in town. The echo effect is that people want to go see the place they’re watching on TV each week. It becomes a tourist destination.”
Taylor said that producers will soon begin reaching out to local residents who might be featured on the program. It’s likely that a production crew will arrive in January to shoot some tape and produce the “sizzle reel.”
According to its website, Authentic Entertainment has produced many popular shows including ‘Ace of Cakes,’ ‘Flipping Out!,’ ‘Toddlers & Tiaras,’ ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,’‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate,’ ‘Auction Kings’ and many more series and specials airing on Discovery Channel, Food Network, TLC, History Channel, National Geographic, Showtime, Planet Green, Travel Channel, Animal Planet, Bravo, Sundance Channel, and WEtv.