First it was artificially tanned, party-crazed Italian Americans. Now it’s mud-racing, squirrel-hunting Appalachians.
MTV is again at odds with state film officials who refuse to subsidize the network’s latest reality TV show with tax credits. West Virginia film officials have cited MTV’s unflattering depiction of state culture in “Buck Wild.”
The show, scheduled to start filming next spring in Charleston and Sissonville, follows a group of recent high school graduates living in rural West Virginia as they participate in homegrown activities such as mud-racing.
“We’ll give our viewers a singular and fun glimpse at this generation’s experience as we go into Appalachia to capture the lives of a lovable group of dynamic young people,” MTV programming head David Janollari said in a recent statement.
But the West Virginia Film Office was not impressed and twice turned down the show’s application for incentives over concerns the series will negatively portray the state. West Virginia offers tax credits of up to 31% of qualified production spending. But to qualify, a production has to meet specific content criteria set forth by the state Legislature. The denial came to light last month when MTV announced the new series.
“It [the production] can’t portray West Virginia in a significantly derogatory manner,” said West Virginia Film Office Director Pam Haynes, acknowledging that what is deemed “significantly derogatory” is subjective and decided by a six-member panel.
The show’s executive producer, J.P. Williams of Parallel Entertainment, is a native West Virginian best known for creating “Blue Collar Comedy,” a stand-up troupe led by Jeff Foxworthy that pokes fun at rural American life. Representatives of Parallel could not be reached and MTV spokeswoman Candice Ashton declined to comment.
The denial follows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision last month to revoke a $420,000 tax credit that his state’s Economic Development Authority had awarded to MTV for its hit reality TV series “Jersey Shore,” which spent $2.1 million in the state during the first season of the show.
The show, which has drawn criticism for its portrayal of Italian Americans, perpetuated misconceptions about New Jersey, Christie said in his veto letter. The fifth and most recent season of “Jersey Shore” was the third to be filmed in New Jersey — seasons two and four were filmed in Miami Beach and Italy, respectively.
Many states that offer filming incentives stipulate content requirements. In Michigan, a legal provision requires films approved for tax credits to help promote the state as a tourist destination. In Texas, a production may not qualify for tax credits if it “portrays Texas or Texans in a negative fashion.” That law was cited last year when the Texas Film Commission denied tax credits for Robert Rodriguez’s “Machete,” a film starring Danny Trejo as a former federal agent wreaking much-deserved havoc on corrupt government agents and overzealous border vigilantes.
Cries of censorship have been aimed at attempts of more heavy-handed state control over content. In Florida, a legislative proposal to bar a special tax credit for family entertainment from productions that exhibit “nontraditional family values” was dropped last year after it was criticized for targeting gay characters.
In an environment in which state filming incentive programs are being scrutinized and reevaluated, states such as West Virginia must walk the fine line between drawing productions they hope will stimulate the local economy while keeping constituents who foot the bill happy.
“We are doing our responsibility to our taxpayers,” Haynes said, “to run the program as the Legislature mandates.”