What makes good TV these days?

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Twice in the last year I’ve settled in for a relaxing evening on the couch, ready to step far, far away from the real world and deep into TV land only to encounter familiar surprises.

First, it was my dentist staring back at me from the TV screen.

Then, more recently, local businessman Finley Hootsell was suddenly in my living room.

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Natchez, it seems is perfectly placed — tucked between two sides of Louisiana — for finding new TV talents.

Dr. Bruce Scarborough made a reality show appearance — albeit it a totally fake one, he later told us — on the Discovery Channel’s “Sons of Guns.”

Hootsell appeared two weeks ago on the History Channel’s “Cajun Pawn Stars.”

An important fact ties both shows together. They are filmed in Louisiana.

But those aren’t the only shows currently on TV filmed in Cajun country. Here’s a list of the ones I’ve heard of; I’m sure there are more:

4Swamp People

4Bayou Billionaires

4Duck Dynasty

4Billy the Exterminator

4My Big Redneck Vacation

4Cajun Justice

Is Louisiana just that interesting? Maybe. It is apparently “the farthest corner of America,” as the “Swamp People” intro claims.

But there’s another factor at play in creating what they are now calling “Hollywood South” — tax breaks.

Louisiana is ranked as the top destination state for film crews because of a 30-percent tax credit.

The tax break rivals that of Alaska. Seen any shows on TV lately about Alaska? At least half a dozen or more can be seen most weeks.

Supporters of such deep tax cuts to the TV and movie industry point to lots of positives. It’s a green industry that brings out-of-town money into town. At the same time, your state gets “free” national marketing and probably a few more tourists than it used to. Crews bring jobs to town, hiring local talents and local crews.

But opponents say the state isn’t getting its money back.

The jobs created by the filming industry aren’t all that high paying, since the highest paid folks come in with the production crew and aren’t hired locally.

The industry doesn’t do much to build the local economy, and the breaks are an expensive loss of tax revenue for cash-strapped states.

It seems like there’s a new Louisiana-based TV show every month, so keeping accurate stats of the actual impact is tough, leading to arguments from the opposing sides.

Hootsell is hoping to seize the opportunity his friendship with the star of “Cajun Pawn Stars” afforded him. After filming a segment on the Alexandria-based TV show, Hootsell began working to attract the producers to Natchez and Vidalia.

Watch a recent episode closely and you’ll see video of the Mississippi River from Natchez. The clip wasn’t explained, and I’m sure the rest of the world assumed it was in Alexandria, but it’s a start.

Natchez has a long history as the set for movies and TV series. We’ve only dabbled in reality TV, but our landscape, architecture and people make us perfect for the next great show.

But if Natchez wants to be on TV, we’ll likely have to make a lobbying trip or two to Jackson. Clearly, the tax cuts are an essential piece when it comes to making good TV.


Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.