REALITY CHECK?

For Weekly SurgeFebruary 27, 2013 

The great minds of our time have spent countless hours pondering the plight of humankind, the truth of our origins, making best use of the limited resources on our little planet - things like that. So it is only fitting that, in this time of increased media-influenced enlightenment of the masses, one of the more advanced cable-channel-based entities would smile fondly upon our little chunk of paradise along the northern Atlantic coast of South Carolina.

So ready or not, Discovery Channel’s TLC (which used to stand for The Learning Channel) network will debut its newest and buzzworthy offering into the world of reality TV: “Welcome to Myrtle Manor.”

Slated to hit the airwaves at 10 p.m. Sunday, the show is pedal-to-the-metal entertainment television. There are varying opinions on the show as of this writing; the general buzz on social media such as Facebook has been less than enthusiastic or kind, to say the least.

But keep it fair and realize that Facebook, Twitter and all ensuing new media - even some throwbacks who utilize MySpace for more than just music files - are not especially known for places being populated by excessively (or often minimally) informed or intelligent discussions. Since the initial negative blowback was based solely on the initial blurbs or PR and some less-than-flattering video portending that all folk who reside in modular domiciles engineered for transportable residency - mobile homes - well, honestly, you could pretty much feel that tsunami coming much like those first wisps of angry breeze whenever an ominous storm lurks off the ocean’s dark horizon.

The main thrust for those who have shared their personal views on this yet-to-be-aired series is essentially the same, recurring argument that inevitably seems to come up whenever any area of the South is portrayed on TV or by cinema in such a stereotypical, cartoonish manner.

Sort of like many who reside in New Jersey felt about “Jersey Shore” when it first aired on MTV, and then in the ensuing media orgasm that turned it into a perpetual motion machine, feeding upon itself and its outrageousness.

Low risk, high reward

Now, if you look into the industry’s own numbers, it’s clear to see and understand - at least, from their perspective - at least, through the Big 4 Network’s eyes.

According to the N.Y. Times, a 2010 poll by TiVo said television viewers were growing tired of reality shows, with 40 percent calling reality the most overdone genre of programming. (Suspense was the viewers’ favorite.)

However, the only poll that really counts is the ratings - and viewers have had obvious favorites from the summer season of replacement “reality” shows.

On broadcast television (non-cable), the majority of the top 20 highest-rated programs among the 18-to-49 group were reality or unscripted shows.

David F. Poltrack, the chief research officer for CBS said in 2010 N.Y. Times article, “Reality shows generally cost less than half as much to produce as scripted television.”

“If you can bring these shows back on a regular basis, “Poltrack said, “then you don’t have the risk of failure. Bad reality shows can do some really abysmal numbers and die very quickly.”

The reality area that the big networks have steered clear of, for the most part, is what is called the docu-soap, an hour or 30-minute block of larger-than-life characters interacting and reacting in provocative ways. That pretty much describes cable hits such as “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” on MTV, and “The Real Housewives” series on Bravo.

Enter TLC, Discovery, A&E, The History Channel, et al ...

Nothing but unchartered territory to plunder, and without the constraints of the usual network two-step, these folks are willing to take HUGE chances on rolling the dice on what the public will or will not clamor for.

Such is the case with “Welcome to Myrtle Manor.” If it clicks, it will be huge. If it doesn’t, it becomes the winning factoid in a future game of Trivial Pursuit.

And, of course, the characters straight out of a modern-day pulp fiction novel where the big score is simply making it through the day in order to party through the night. And then bestow a creature named Snooki upon the tabloid foddermeisters and the telebloid inside-backstage-upstairs-next to the office of-cousin of the janitor who saw someone who fits the description of the bozo du jour’s “exclusive details.”

Well, there you have it, as far as the nervousness prior to airing goes in our little town.

Natives getting restless

Now, we should explain, the term “nervousness” is fairly relative: The younger the potential viewing audience, the more likely they will gulp it down like a 5-hour Energy Drink and a Moon Pie (they took away our favorite metaphor when Hostess folded and Twinkies bit the dust, so we’re engaging the backup files to locate an optional reference for chemically-produced, high-caloric junk food - so we’re using Moon Pie.) For evidence, look at this week’s Street Pulse man-on-the-street poll on page 6.

As that age bar goes up, however, there is a palpable uneasiness with this odd mixture of unlikely neighbors who are thrown together by the winds of fate, as nail-biting drama and side-splitting hilarity are sure to follow.

And when that bar exceeds a certain age - say, about the range of those folks who were born here, or who moved here, back in the post-war years of the developing diamond-in-the-rough that lay nestled among the barrier islands and coastal swamps and natural waterways - Myrtle Beach.

Those folks came here and took what was literally nothing, as far as infrastructure, roads or development was concerned. Prior to the post-war economic boom, extended visits to the sun-drenched beaches by the locals - much less any adventurous tourists - was less than enjoyable, thanks mostly to the voracious appetites of the local flyin’ critters of the entomologic persuasion. And if they couldn’t get the job done, well, their buddies dwelling in the sand, flora and fauna were more than willing to take up the slack.

Screen porches did offer some respite from the insects, but it couldn’t negate the heat and just as deadly, the insufferable humidity.

Throw in the oh-by-the-way black bears, bobcats, panthers (while they were still here), wild boar and the occasional rabid fox or raccoon, and Myrtle Beach didn’t really scream “Visit me!”

However, those early founding visionaries took the sleepy little seaside town and slowly built a quiet, unassuming little getaway along the coast. Things took a bit of a blow, so to speak, when Hurricane Hazel nearly erased the northern end of the Strand in particular, but impacting far south of Georgetown as well.

Undaunted, the local movers and shakers continued to tout our vast expanse of white ocean sand, gorgeous blue-green oceans and inordinate amounts of glorious sunshine. By the mid-60s, there were more than 100 mom-&-pop motels, with a handful of the new franchises such as Holiday Inn. The shining jewel of South Carolina’s newly proclaimed “Grand Strand” shone brightly on an increasingly mobile national citizenry.

It was the epitome of the term “Family Beach.” Everything about motels, restaurants and amusements were geared towards a family-friendly setting, where mom and dad could relax and feel that their children were safe and well-protected from harm.

Things change, however ... and for some, the only way to combat change is to exact verbal warfare upon it.

Not surprisingly, as a result, the most vocal opponents to this most recent portrayal of today’s Myrtle Beach, ala TLC’s “Myrtle Manor,” are most definitely those folks in that founding fathers age group.

Their disapproval isn’t simply based on an older mindset, however.

The youngest generation of viewers today has nothing to hold in comparison to their fare of television programming. The world that they perceive around them is, sadly, greatly shaped by the never-ending onslaught of 24-hour news cycles, seemingly limitless cable channels, Internet ubiquity, smart phones, radio, and MP3s.

Worse, they don’t have much vetted reference available to them if they were interested in fact over fiction, save for snopes.com.

And in that, many worry that this heralded little slice of input sensory heaven lovingly provided by TLC will project a long-hated stereotype of the stupid, trailer-dwelling Southern white redneck, with the ebullient and well-meaning token black as the official comic relief. Ironically, if they had that worry, they only need look at the remainder of the cast to realize that the comic relief is extensive, if not all-encompassing, on this series.

The next Snooki? Oh dear Jesus, please, no snookem’s names, alright? We’ve yet to forgive Linda Bloodworth-Thomason for bastardizing the names “Skeeter” and “Nub” forever in the annals of Southern folklore in nicknames.

Another fear is that this believes-whatever-they-see-on-TV crowd will watch this show and instantaneously assign a full vote of no confidence in all inhabitants of our fair little slice of paradise - and more importantly that potential tourists will be scared away from visiting our vacation destination. Much like they devour and accept the other 99 percent of manufactured B.S. that passes for programming these days.

But, the shared fear is that the South in general, and Myrtle Beach and South Carolina in particular, will become the target of the long-tired dumb-southern-hick routine; you know, “they’re all alike down there! I think it’s the heat; it slows down their brains and that’s why they talk soooo slow ...”

We wanted to get the City of Myrtle Beach’s official take on the show, so we contacted Public Information Officer Mark Kruea.

“I think most TV viewers have come to realize that what passes for reality is often scripted or producer-assisted,” Kruea observed, “but if you’ve got a sense of humor and you’re a savvy enough viewer, you should get the joke.”

Now, we know this may come as a huge shock to some people out there, but according to Kruea, some of what appears to occur on these shows isn’t necessarily what happens in a natural sequence of events.

He related a request from another reality show last year, one that does vehicle repossessions. They were requesting official City of Myrtle beach assistance in setting up a repo gone bad, ends up with a chase of the vehicle - which, as any local worth-his-grits will also comply, was filled with fireworks - and then film them catching up to the vehicle trying to escape on the beach, only to explode in pyrotechnic glory.

The city politely declined.

We also asked for comment from the Grand Strand image-protectors known as the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, and also submitted questions to the show’s producers, and requested an interview with a cast-member we were familiar with from previous stories, but to no avail.

Living on the manor

So, to bring everyone up to speed on what set off the initial hoopla over the show from the locals, here’s what the fine folks at TLC sent out, announcing the proud new offering:

Welcome To Myrtle Manor Moves Into TLC

“TLC shows a slice of Southern beach life in WELCOME TO MYRTLE MANOR, a new ten-part series that follows the crazy antics at a trailer park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Each sixty-minute episode takes viewers along for a wild ride with these quirky mobile home residents as their lives collide in this proud, tight knit community.

“Formerly Patrick’s Mobile Home, Myrtle Manor has been handed down from generation to generation. The trailer park landlord Becky took over the reigns from her father and owner of the park, Cecil, and is feeling the pressure to succeed. The recent name change and other improvements to the establishment - including a new hair salon and above ground swimming pool - are part of a larger effort to turn the mobile home community into a "5-star resort." A transient community, the residents of Myrtle Manor come from all walks of life - some have lived there for 30 years, others only 30 days and like the legions of tourists visiting Myrtle Beach, they treat everyday like a vacation. From wacky hijinks and relationship drama, to evictions and backyard brawls, there’s never a dull moment inside the Manor. While at first glance it seems very different from the places most of us live, at its core, it’s a neighborhood and although these colorful characters may argue, scream and fight, at the end of the day, they abide by trailer park law - you mess with one, you mess with the whole trailer park.”

Oh, you can’t wander into this wonderland without a program, pilgrim. Here’s a little guide to the cast:

Becky: The Trailer Park Landlord

“Myrtle Manor has been in Becky’s family for generations and now her father Cecil is turning over the business to her. Will she turn it into the five-star trailer park she has always dreamed of or will Cecil have to fire her before Myrtle Manor falls apart?”

Jeana: Aunt to Becky

“Miss Jeana (with a J) is Becky’s aunt. Having just split from her husband of over 20 years, Jeana is making a fresh start in Myrtle Manor with her motorcycle, her new look, and her no excuses approach to life.”

Cecil: Becky’s father and owner of Myrtle Manor

“Cecil is the patriarch of Myrtle Manor and one of Myrtle Beach’s largest landowners. Cecil’s daddy built the trailer park and now Cecil is entrusting the family legacy to Becky. If she cannot keep the money coming in and the riff raff going out, Cecil may have to reconsider the future of the park.”

Jared: The New Guy

“After drifting from place to place, Jared storms into Myrtle Manor on his crotch rocket. Seeing Jared down on his luck, Miss Becky has a soft spot for him and literally gives him a new lot in life with a beat-up Airstream on a patch of grass. Jared can live rent free until he gets a job if he earns his keep by doing odd jobs for Myrtle Manor. He wants to do right by Becky, but will his wild ways get him into trouble?”

Chelsey: Darlin’ Dog Wiener Girl

“Chelsey is the co-founder of Darlin’ Dogs - a struggling hot dog business on wheels. Chelsey is determined to create a hot dog empire on the boardwalks of Myrtle Beach, but when all the earnings go to parties and booze, the Darlin’ Dogs will have a hard time making rent at Myrtle Manor.”

Lindsay: Darlin’ Dog Wiener Girl

“The perpetually giggling Lindsay is co-founder of Darlin’ Dogs. Less business savvy than her partner Chelsey, Lindsay is more interested in the Myrtle Beach nightlife than slinging hot dogs for cash.”

Amanda: Newest Darlin’ Dog

“Wearing a "Bless Your Heart" trucker hat and a whole lot of attitude, Amanda is the turtle hunting, four wheel driving redneck of the Darlin Dogs Empire. The Weiner Girls, Chelsey and Lindsey, found their new co-worker at a bar and they better be careful, because Amanda’s motto is, ‘You can’t call someone a true friend until you get into a fight.’”

Gina: Co-owner of Tangulls (Myrtle Manor hair salon) and hairdresser

“Miss Gina has lived in Myrtle Beach all her life. When Becky wanted to give the trailer park a new image, she looked no further than Miss Gina to open a salon in Myrtle Manor. Although she doesn’t live in the park, Miss Gina is more than happy to have Tangulls serve as the rumor mill for the residents.”

Roy: Co-owner of Tangulls (Myrtle Manor hair salon), hairdresser and former drag queen

“Roy might not be your average good ole boy, but Roy is as Southern as they come. Originally from a small town in North Carolina, Roy moved to the “New York of the South” after beauty school. He’s worked the pageant route and is considered one of the top make-up artists in Myrtle Beach. Roy is the first to admit that his lips and cheekbones are surgically enhanced, but his man boobs are all his.”

Taylor: Local Club Promoter

“Taylor is the king of Myrtle Beach nightlife. When he’s not at the club, Taylor is trying to manage his volatile relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Jessica. And if he needs any help, his mom Anne lives in the trailer across the street.”

Gus: Taylor’s Dog

“Gus is Taylor’s wingman, his confidant and his best friend. When not drooling all over Taylor’s trailer, Gus is watching over Myrtle Manor.”

Jessica: Taylor’s Girlfriend

“With her fire engine red hair and piercings, Jessica is hard to miss at Myrtle Manor. The young beauty can be found flirting with the boy next door or fighting on the front porch of the trailer that she shares with her boyfriend Taylor.”

Anne: Taylor’s Mother

“Anne lives across the street from her son Taylor. With white wine in hand, she tries to keep the peace between Taylor, Jessica and all of Myrtle Manor. A little quirky, Anne’s wisdom is uniquely Myrtle Beach.”

Marvin: Security Guard

“Marvin is this five-star trailer park’s head of security. Marvin’s job is to ensure the safety of the residents, direct traffic and help Miss Becky keep the rules enforced.”

Bandit: Jingle Writer

“This jingle writer, hot rod driving and New Yorker Roger is also known as "Bandit." His deluxe doublewide may look fancy on the outside, but inside, the roaches and mold are threating his makeshift recording studio. With his livelihood in jeopardy, Bandit is a jingle session shy from being evicted by Becky.”

Miss Peggy: The eyes and ears of Myrtle Manor

“Miss Peggy is the oldest resident at Myrtle Manor, but this little old lady has some surprises in store. Not your average Grandma, Miss Peggy reminds everyone you only live once and Miss Peggy is here to LIVE.”

Shellie: The Wiccan

“Shellie, one of Myrtle Beach’s few and proud Goth wiccans, resides at Myrtle Manor. As the owner of a Goth/Metal Club on the boardwalk, her odd hours keep the trailer park residents talking. Ask her what kind of witch she is and she will explain there is no such thing as good or bad witches. Just witches.”

Alyson: Becky’s Daughter

“Alyson is Becky’s youngest daughter and the princess of the park. Currently in school for business, she one day hopes to take over management of Myrtle Manor.”

And so ends TLC’s official summary of this hip new series, set with 10 one-hour episodes for the premier season.

Now, here’s the thing, kids. It’s *just* a show. It’s entertainment, lots of artistic liberties and all that sort of stuff. It’s beyond wacky, beyond believable, and borders on just plain stupid - but it’s still fun!

Loosen up the bone, Wilma. To those who get their civvies in a wad and think this will reflect badly on Myrtle Beach, get over yourselves, please.

And if you know someone who just can’t process reality, and who is convinced that every living, breathing, crawling sub-human life form must surely reside in every mobile home park in Horry County, we would suggest backing away from them slowly but steadily until they are no longer a problem.

Or you can try to can get them into Myrtle Manor. They just might be the next breakout star of Myrtle Beach Reality TV.

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