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But Chris Stelly, who oversees the tax credit program in his job as executive director of Louisiana Entertainment in the department of Louisiana Economic Development, says reality TV shows constitute a relatively small percentage of projects taking advantage of the tax credits — less than 10 percent since the program's inception.
"The reality TV phenomenon is more driven by the story than anything else," Stelly says. "Typically when (shows) first come into the state, they fall below the minimum threshold, $300,000. We have seen some reality shows — Billy the Exterminator, Swamp People — as they progress and start realizing they're spending money over the minimums required, then they will apply and ultimately take advantage of the tax credits.
"This is purely a genre of television that's being driven by popularity and subject matter."
A&E's Neumeyer says it's a combination of both factors: the tax credits are an incentive and viewers react positively to Louisiana personalities. "They feel that it's very relatable, even though they don't live in Louisiana," she says.
"There's a culture, there's a food, there's a flavor, there's a music, there's all those things that are Louisiana-centric that don't necessarily exist when you go to the other states," says Flanagan of Magilla Entertainment. "It opens itself up into a really vibrant culture to tap into with regards to reality TV and documentaries."
Bad Girls Club, Oxygen's reality show that's sort of like The Real World but with eight of the same person (the two shows share a production company, Bunim/Murray), filmed its seventh season at ex-New Orleans Hornets coach Byron Scott's former Chateau Estates mansion. Production of the show encountered resistance from residents of the upscale neighborhood, who initially were upset by the production company painting the house's columns a girly purple. Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni pulled the plug on taping, citing a neighborhood zoning law. The show eventually went on, however, premiering in August 2011. Kenner adopted new filming regulations as a result of Bad Girls Club.
"Basically the city could not prove that the production company was violating any city codes, mainly the code provision that prohibits how many people may reside in a residence who are not related by blood or marriage," Kenner city attorney Keith Conley wrote in an email to Gambit. "We had an open line of communication with the production company, who assured us that only the legal amount of people were staying at the residence, while the rest were staying at a hotel and transported in daily to shoot the segments."
Mike Quigley, Yenni's chief administrative officer, thinks Bad Girls Club didn't make much of a splash in Kenner, despite fears about the debauchery the show would depict. "The series was on the Oxygen Channel, and it is a channel I do not have," Quigley wrote in an email response. "I was curious to see it, but I never did view it. Furthermore, I don't know of anyone that watched it. It seems like Swamp People is more interesting."
Around this time, some speculative projects began to emerge. After his release from prison, former Gov. Edwin Edwards was in talks with local production company SSS Entertainment to create a reality show focusing on his post-incarceration life with his new (and much younger) wife Trina Grimes Scott. That project seems to have fizzled out.
The SSS Entertainment website, however, lists a number of projects in development — most notably a series called Wanks, which is described as a reality program "that follows the party-fueled lives of young guys and girls living on the West Bank of New Orleans, where every weekend is Mardi Gras." The description also says the show was sold to Oxygen in 2011. (Company founder and executive producer Shaun Sanghani could not be reached for an interview.)
It's difficult to tell what shows are coming up, since reality shows seem to be conceived and shelved all the time. But in April, A&E announced a new show, Cajun Justice, which follows the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office ("a world where the sheriff is like a king, voodoo is a common practice and no police call is routine"). Cajun Justice premieres June 7. Animal Planet currently is filming its fourth season of the series Pitbulls and Parolees at the 9th Ward branch of the Villalobos Rescue Center; it is set to air sometime this fall. In a strange nexus of Louisiana reality TV, Pitbulls cast member Heidi Ziegler was carjacked and the case was featured on WGNO-TV's "Wheel of Justice," a news segment on which Tat-2 of Big Easy Justice used to be a frequent guest.