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History channel series puts spotlight on W.Va. heritage

Aug. 01, 2013 @ 12:20 AM

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- Railroad tracks snake through and around the heart of Williamson hauling away the town's lifeblood -- that black gold known as coal.

Starting Thursday, the city hopes to capitalize on a little paler shade of homegrown prosperity -- moonshine.

At 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, History premieres the new reality series, "Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning" that's mixing up two of the most volatile aspects of Appalachia -- Hatfields and McCoys and moonshine.

Produced for History by Coolfire Originals and Thinkfactory Media, "White Lightning" is a 14-episode series that follows descendants of Randall McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield as they bury past differences to team up together to open a moonshine distillery on West Third Avenue in downtown Williamson.

The show is anchored by two modern-day shiners and businessmen.

McCoy patriarch Jim Quick is a Chapmanville insurance agency owner, direct maternal descendent of Randall McCoy and organizer of the now famous McCoy Reunion.

On the other side is the great-great-great grandson of Devil Anse Hatfield, Mark Hatfield, whose farm near Ripley, W.Va., was used to shoot some of the series. About 80 percent of the show was shot mainly in Mingo County -- Williamson, Matewan and along the Tug River.

Assisting the production from the beginning has been Hatfields and McCoys expert Bill Richardson, the Mingo County-based WVU Extension agent and associate professor who also was featured in national episodes of Hatfields and McCoy-themed shows "American Pickers," "How The States Got Their Shapes," and "Diggers."

"I expect this will have millions of dollars of tourism impact," Richardson said. "How big that impact will be will be in how many seasons it goes."

Richardson said that on the heels of such immensely popular shows as "Moonshiners," "White Lightning" is a very timely, high-profile way to get people to make the pilgrimage to what folks call Feuding Country -- the rugged mountain towns where the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud took place along the banks of the Tug River.

The production has involved including everything from securing a license after moonshine and spirits were made legal in West Virginia, securing a building for the distillery (located in a 1927-built former car dealership), and finding the right characters for the show.

He said the production is larger than many of the feature film sets he has worked on. Since April, a crew of about 25 have been shooting all over most of Southern West Virginia.

"For this kind of show, this is just immense," Richardson said. "This crew is double the size of 'Pickers.' There's 10 main players, and a lot of secondary and tertiary people as well. They've worked with a lot of people even if they were just used for a day."

Those involved including Quick, who turned down the role twice before accepting, to assure folks this show is more akin to "Duck Dynasty" and not "Buckwild," the controversial MTV reality show that many felt disparaged rural life in West Virginia.

In fact, author Dean King, who also is associated with the show, traveled with History producers to meet with West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to assure him that was the case.

Curiosity in what will be shown starting Thursday is the talk of the town in Williamson.

Sitting on the front steps of Brick Street Artifacts, Pat DeLeon has had a front-row seat to the months of shooting.

The antiques mall with 34 dealers is across the street from Doyle Van Meter's Sycamore Inn where the cast and crew, most from L.A., New York and even Idaho, have been staying.

"It seems to be real interesting, but they seem to be real secretive too," said DeLeon, as the crew made its way up the brick street to the railroad tracks to shoot a scene.

DeLeon has more than a passing interest in the show since her 78-year-old husband, John, or "Red," a Navy airman veteran, was part of the shoot one Saturday.

"I'm going to be in it," said Red with a gleam leaning on his cane. "Well, unless I end up on the cutting room floor."

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