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Pierce: W.Va. senator should follow Utah's lead in reality TV battles

Published December 14, 2012 1:35 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A U.S. senator from West Virginia has become the latest politician to climb on a soapbox and pontificate about television — and help those he's trying to hurt.

After watching a preview of the forthcoming series "Buckwild," Sen. Joe Manchin is calling on MTV to cancel the series. Because it makes West Virginia look bad. OK, worse.

"We have an awful lot of constituents," said the Democratic senator. "They're very much offended that they're trying to portray our state in this light."

Let's forget for a moment that Manchin hasn't actually seen the show he's complaining about. No one is denying that "Buckwild" is going to do for West Virginia what "Jersey Shore" did for New Jersey — demonstrate that there are some really idiotic young people who will do anything to be on TV.

Just as in the other 48 states.

To oversimplify, if that's possible, "Buckwild" features attractive young people drinking, partying, having meaningless sex and participating in various stupid stunts.

But Manchin's comments, coming just weeks before the Jan. 3 premiere, are like a gift to MTV. You can't buy the kind of publicity he's generated.

Weirdly enough, this is a repeat. Four years ago, New Jersey State Sen. Joseph F. Vitale sent a letter to MTV's parent company demanding that "Jersey Shore" be canceled.

"Jersey Shore is a fabrication created by MTV Networks and marketed to represent reality," read the letter. "This is a far cry from a documentary of a naturally occurring subculture existing in New Jersey."

Substitute West Virginia for New Jersey and it sounds pretty much the same today.

"In no way shape or form is this reality, and definitely not reality in West Virginia," Manchin said. "As I'm told and I understand, this was all scripted and … [they would do] four or five or six takes if that's what's needed to make it look as outrageous as it possibly can."

Yup. That's reality TV on MTV. And Manchin has done more to promote the show than anyone else.

Here's what you do if there's a show about your state you don't much care for: Ignore it if possible. Downplay it if you're forced to comment.

Such as when former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was asked about the fictional HBO drama "Big Love" back in 2006. "Hollywood tends to rely on extremes when they make shows," he said. "That's what sells. I'm not sure too many people are swayed by whatever message it's trying to impart."

I can't agree with Huntsman the TV critic — he wrongly called "Big Love" "contentless" and "pointless."

But when it comes to politics and TV, Manchin should have looked to the guy from Utah, not the guy from New Jersey.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.