The Road to Reality

Aiyeee! I’ve been away for too long – sorry folks. I unexpectedly had to go back out on the road to do some secondary filming in Gulfport, Biloxi and Ocean Springs, Miss., for the reality television show. Hence my absence from blogging. For those not familiar with with what I’m referring to, allow me to explain.

When I first published the Urban Llama, it was in the midst of accepting a production assistant job on a reality television show with Sirens Media.


The show, entitled “I Am The Law,” as explained to me, would be based upon an individual or group, who resides in a small southern town and works in the law enforcement field.

That’s straight forward enough.

Now add in the person involved needs to have a big, boisterous, outsized personality, that is LARGE and IN CHARGE!

That’s slightly sketchier. Welcome to the reality part of the scenario.

They also should be accomplished at what they do, and achieve results through unconventional methods.

The “unconventional methods” part hasn’t been so well received by rank and file law enforcement.

What particularly sets this show apart from things like “Cops,” is the producers not only want to be on the beat with its cast members, but also come home with them and involve their family and possibly friends.

This also hasn’t been terribly popular with law enforcement.

Cops, sheriffs and state police tend to be very protective of their families. With good reason, they deal with bad people, and are involved in some ugly situations. It’s easier for the families to not know the gory details of what the police encounter on the job because spouses and children would worry even more – and for officers it keeps their families protected and pure from all they deal with daily, so they can return home to an unsoiled environment.

Here's the revised flyer we designed to handout and post for the show.

Sirens is located in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is the creation of partners Rebecca Toth Diefenbach and Valerie Haselton Drescher. As stated on its Web site, “Sirens Media is a forward-thinking, full-service production company dedicated to the creation of programming with a bold, innovative, and (our favorite) sassy edge.”

There are two sides to Sirens, one is more salacious, the other focuses on investigative and law enforcement-based programming. This is the side where our project falls, though it most likely will straddle the line between the two sides.

Who doesn’t enjoy salacious law enforcement?!?

Its clients include MTV, A&E, Bravo and Discovery – and are responsible for such programming as, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Prison Wives, Witness to Waco and Suburban Secrets.

I don’t have a strong opinion on reality television, mostly because I don’t watch it. I’m unplugged from cable. The only reality shows I’ve ever seen are sporting events – but having recently earned my master’s degree in journalism, I’m excited to work on any project that has media attached to the name.

My friend Sara, who lives in Washington, DC, and is a veteran freelance writer for television, hooked me up with this opportunity. She is part of my Jazz Fest crew of friends, and is familiar with my nightlife wanderings from our nocturnal adventures during festival time.

Sara mentioned to Sirens they might want to use someone local, and I do get out and about you could say. I’m always up for finding a strange new place for food or music, and love talking up strangers. Sprinkle in some journalism and I’m suddenly a production assistant – whatever that means.

My task was to go into the field and find somebody interesting enough, that wasn’t too dangerous or uncontrollable, that the network could build a show around. This sounded like a narrow enough focus – at least while I was still sitting on my couch.

No doubt it’s exciting to have an expense account and be turned loose to hit hole-in-the-wall bars, taverns, dive restaurants, anywhere that characters are known to hang out. But when you actually hit the road, and approach a town of even 500 or 1,000 people, with no leads on where to go or who to speak with, the task at hand becomes more complicated.

Much less when I hit an urban center like Mobile, Ala., where the population is around 200,000. I didn’t have a lot of time – two weeks to cover four states (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida). I needed to make fast friends fast.

These are small Deep South townships, some not even incorporated – and here I come rambling down Main Street with Radiohead blaring out the car window, an eyebrow piercing and asking a bunch of questions.

Actually I switched out the Radiohead for Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. Can I tell you Lynyrd Skynyrd just sounds better when played in the Great State of Alabama! It just does – can’t explain it exactly.

I had concerns I might show up in these towns and it would be a feeding frenzy. Here I come waving this magic lottery ticket known as reality television, and with the poor economy, and that I was traveling along the Gulf Coast, which has been doubly wrecked by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, maybe the whole town comes running.

Surprisingly, less people want to be involved in this stuff than you think. My director of development explained it this way. For the most part, those that pursue us to be on the show, usually are not what we’re looking for, and those that are the best candidates will require convincing to come on board.

I understood what this meant immediately. And while reassuring, it also caused a shiver to go down my spine. I felt slightly dirty – but it made me smile as well.

In the end the project’s focus broadened considerably before it narrowed again, and a producer quit along the way. But I have to say the people I met on the road were amazingly pleasant and helpful – I only felt the need to stop and buy a handgun twice.

Even the police were polite, not helpful mind you, but polite.

And all the folks at Sirens were fantastically accommodating and supportive of my endeavors. Having not done anything like this before, there was some trial and error, but this process was more fun to be involved with than I could have imagined.

I’m pulling for my bounty hunters – that one or a group of them makes the cut. It was a long road from cops to bounty hunters, a path filled with alligator trappers, moonshine busters, conspiracy theorists, casino roughnecks and a boatload of eccentric alcoholic rednecks (if you feed them they don’t bite).

Hang with me and I’ll post some stories and photos from the road over the next couple days. I leave for Iowa City tomorrow on a new freelance assignment, so I may lose a day or two in travel, but I’ll get it all up.

Remember our reality television show motto: Go hard, or go home!

Words to live by. Subtle isn’t it…

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