WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- America's most famous feud has recently been the subject of a record-breaking miniseries and a documentary. Next up? Possibly a new unscripted (reality) show to be shot for a cable TV network.
Bill Richardson, West Virginia University Extension Professor and feud expert who was featured in the documentary, said by phone Thursday morning that a casting call for a new competition-based Hatfield and McCoy unscripted series will be from 1 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at the Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, Williamson campus.
The production company is looking for interesting characters between the ages of 15 and 85 who have a family connection to the famous feud. You don't have to be named Hatfield or McCoy, just be descended from a feud participant. It could be Jim Vance, Frank Phillips, Perry Cline, Aunt Betty or any of the other key players in the conflict.
You don't need to bring proof of your family connection at this stage of the process, but if they select you for the show you will have to provide that information. At the casting call you will be photographed, provide your contact information and be asked a few questions. The producers just want to get an idea of your personality and hear about your family connection to the feud.
The production company doing the show has produced shows and documentaries for A&E, the National Geographic Channel, the History Channel, Syfy, MTV and others.
Richardson said that while many reality shows must be approached with trepidation, he said the producers of this show have assured him that they want something upbeat and positive and that it is not designed to show the descendants in a negative light.
"First of all they are a legitimate company and they are insistent on it being a positive show," Richardson said. "The networks have been pitched several Appalachian shows and they were so sad and so negative that they didn't want to do them. This has been the first one that has been positive and that is the reason I got in. If I stay involved, I will do my best to make sure it is as positive as it can be."
Richardson said the show will be competition-based with descendants of the respective clans competing to best capitalize on their heritage through a series of business tasks.
"It will evolve over time but the way it starts is with these family members trying to capitalize on their heritage in a business way," Richardson said. "Kind of like who does it better, not competitions like 'Survivor.' It will primarily be people trying to capitalize on their heritage in a way that improves their lives economically."
Richardson said it will have elements of other shows, but will not be like any other unscripted show out there.
What he does hope though is that the unscripted show will be another wave of publicity to help drive folks to the region for tourism.
"My motivation is that we have this huge interest right now, but in six months the rest of the country will forget about us," Richardson said. "This will allow us to sustain that interest for maybe not one but maybe five years, and so what I am about is marketing the area and tourism and see if we can sustain this huge amount of attention. Just think what it would do for the economy."
In the direct after-glow of last week's miniseries that set a cable TV record for viewership of a non-sports program, that attention has been overwhelming.
For the 13th Annual Hatfield-McCoy Reunion Festival and Marathon this weekend, Richardson said a record of more than 500 people already have signed up to run the marathon. Organizers also have sold out every feud site tour they've planned for the weekend. Those include tours of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud sites, a tug-of-war across the Tug River by descendants of the feuding families and more.
Richardson said the tourism website www.hatfieldmccoycountry.com has been seeing more than 100,000 hits per day and the WV Culture and History page dedicated to the feud got about 20 million hits this past week.
He said that interest is paying dividends in economic impact.
"... in the past the race and reunion impact has been about $800,000 so if you want to talk measurables, the Hatfields McCoys Reunion weekend will drop over a million dollars into the West Virginia economy," Richardson said. "People are staying in Charleston and coming to run and we are putting some runners up in the fire station and some are sleeping in their cars. Can you imagine sleeping in your car and getting up to run a marathon?"
Actually, sleep anywhere these days for Richardson would be good. He said it's been wild and wonderful since the miniseries began.
This week he escorted "CBS Sunday Morning" reporter Rita Braver around to the feuding sites and to meet descendants at the historic Mountaineer Hotel in Williamson to talk about the history of the feud, what it was like to grow up in one of the families, as well as the impact of the feud on the local area and economy.
That segment is supposed to air at 9 a.m. Sunday, June 10. However, Richardson said confirmation of that broadcast time won't come until Saturday.
"They were really interested in the history and wanted us to talk about the history and what it was like for the descendants to grow up as a Hatfield or McCoy, and for me they wanted to know both about the history and how this is benefiting the area," Richardson said.
For additional information on Tuesday's casting, you can call 304-235-0370 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.