MTV's two-minute trailer promoting Buckwild, a new reality show starring nine young West Virginians, looks like a train wreck of bad behavior that perpetuates the hillbilly stereotype.
But MTV and the production company that filmed the 12-episode series, which premieres Thursday (10 ET/PT), say the actions in the trailer - gunfire, mud fights, bleeped-out words, body licking, reckless driving, garbage throwing and using a dump truck as a swimming pool - aren't what the show's really about.
"Look at any TV or movie trailer out there, and it will grab your attention with the most outrageous stuff," says John Stevens, an executive producer with Zoo Productions, which films the show for MTV. "That's just a formula that broadcasters and movie companies have used forever. I don't think that's indicative of what the show is. The show has a lot of wild moments to it, but I think it's got tons of heart, and I think you're going to see some really fun kinds of relationships."
That's not how U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sees it. The trailer went live on MTV's website Nov. 28, and on Dec. 7, Manchin sent a letter to MTV asking it to cancel the series, which he says is "repulsive" and "plays to ugly, inaccurate stereotypes about the people of West Virginia."
MTV executive Colin Nash says that's not what the network set out to do.
"It's not our goal or intention to stereotype anyone when we're making a TV show," Nash says. "Our show is about this group of kids who happen to live in West Virginia, and I think that people who watch the show will become invested in these kids and their characters and their stories, and hopefully appreciate West Virginia as a backdrop."
Nash, who would not share details, says MTV "privately responded" to Manchin's letter, but "I can't speak about what that conversation was." Manchin's office did not respond to a request for a comment.
Buckwild is set in Sissonville, W.Va., in Kanawha County, about 165 miles southwest of Morgantown, home of West Virginia University, and 15 miles north of Charleston, the state capital. The nine cast members, ages 20 to 25, include Cara Parrish, 23, who says that nothing about her and her friends' behavior in Buckwild insults West Virginia.
"All of us are very proud people," she says in an interview. "We all love our state very much and would never have thought anything that we're doing would be harmful to our state, or we would have never done it."
But resentment over how its citizens are being portrayed isn't the only controversy surrounding the show. Mark Plants, prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County, says he's investigating allegations that the film crew supplied alcohol to underage cast members, a violation of state law.
Plants says his office will prosecute "if there's evidence that these adults provided alcohol to young adults under the age of 21 and then had the audacity to videotape it" and post it on YouTube.
MTV denies the allegations.
Kent Carper, a life-long resident of Kanawha County and president of the county commission, says he believes the show and the cast's behavior are, in part, a Hollywood stunt.
"It's put up, it's not true," says Carper. "Sissonville is a very nice community, and yes, they like to hunt, they like to fish, they like to drive pickup trucks. So do a lot of people all over the country. I've lived here my whole life, and I've never seen anyone act like they do."
Carper concedes that MTV can do whatever it wants, but he and his family won't be watching. "This is America. We've got the First Amendment, but this show does not represent folks who live here. It's just not real. I don't know why it's called reality TV."
Meanwhile, West Virginia is denying Buckwild any tax credits for filming in the state because of the show's content. Pam Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office, wrote in an e-mail to USA TODAY: "This program does not represent our state or our citizens."
But Parrish insists that the show is not fake, that it captures the nine friends going about their daily lives, and says it's hard to please everybody. "I don't think there is anything you can do in life that at least a couple of people aren't going to be happy about, but I can't think of it being offensive. I will say that sometimes, I have a mouth like a sailor."
As for the media buzz that Buckwild is the Appalachian version of MTV's popular Jersey Shore, Parrish says, "I like Jersey Shore, but we're our own thing."
MTV's Nash wouldn't draw any comparisons between the two series.
Asked if she hopes Buckwild becomes as popular as the New Jersey beach town show that made Snooki a household name, Parrish says, "Success is something everyone wants, so I feel like the answer to that would have to be yes."