Running Out of ‘Reality’

Montana is at once a hot commodity on the reality television circuit and nearly tapped out of ideas

By Kellyn Brown

A producer from New York called me last week at the Beacon office. She had some questions about Montana, specifically about the people who live here. She was looking for some “characters,” perhaps locals who “live off the grid.” She explained that she works for a company that wants to film a reality television series in the area. She’s a little late to the game.

Sure, the number of reality television series has continued to grow, but by my unscientific count they are now especially prevalent in this state. I half expect to receive a pitch to feature this company on a show about the trials of working at a newspaper in a relatively rural region. By the way, that pitch has already happened, just not us.

This month, TruTV is filming a reality series in the area featuring Christmas enthusiasts called “Santa in the Barn.” The show, set to premiere in the fall, features 10 contestants competing to be the best Santa Claus. The producers, I assume, expected more winter-like weather in Montana this time of year. So did we.

There is still high demand for series following people with unusual jobs, or doing unusual things or dressing in red-and-white suits in front of a rustic or rural backdrop. This all began in Alaska years ago.

In 2005, “Deadliest Catch” premiered on the Discovery Channel. It followed crab fishermen on the Bering Sea performing one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It was a hit and has now aired for 10 seasons. Since then, the trend of filming men and women has spread to other jobs and other states like ours.

Animal Planet filmed Rob and Mike (who goes by “Animal”) as they rode motorcycles across the Flathead Valley chasing fugitives for a show called “Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters,” which aired last year.

The History Channel has filmed in this area for its reality show “Mountain Men,” which showcases people living in remote areas, some of them off the grid. Tom Oar, a trapper in the Yaak who stars in the show, told USA Today he was happy with how the show has turned out, but added, “They always have to make it seem more dangerous. I’m too boring otherwise.”

History has also aired several seasons of “Ax Men” and featured a couple Montana logging operations, including one based in Kalispell. A few years ago, following an especially heated episode, viewers confused the reality television with the Axmen store in Missoula. The Missoulian reported that the Axmen had to explain it is a “heating, alternative energy, farm and ranch, recycling business/museum in Western Montana. We gladly admit we have nice and easy jobs at our retail store.”

It’s often awkward when reality television collides with reality.

Other shows feature potential buyers of log homes (a Beacon employee was actually shown on one episode) and camera crews following the state’s game wardens – this one airs on the Outdoor Channel. And who can forget when ABC’s juggernaut romantic reality series “The Bachelor” arrived in Whitefish in early 2013 and shut down Central Avenue for country singer Sarah Darling’s concert?

Montana is at once a hot commodity on the reality television circuit and nearly tapped out of ideas. Perhaps that’s why contestants dressed as Santa Claus were competing in the valley this month and why I was asked by a producer if I knew any local characters.

If people are so curious about our state, they should simply visit. We have paved roads, airports and nice residents. Most of us hold traditional 9-to-5 jobs and live on the grid, which, admittedly, is a little boring.

After all, the producer I talked to said she was looking for something reminiscent of “Duck Dynasty.” Again, I think they’re running out of ideas.

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