An official with the production company pursuing a reality television show about Mayor Drew Hastings and the city of Hillsboro was in town this week to get a personal look at the community and its people.
Dana Olkkonen, vice president of development with Authentic Entertainment LLC, said Tuesday she was exploring the town and “figuring out what’s going to make the best show, while staying true to the town and to Drew.”
Olkkonen and her company are working with Jon Taylor, a veteran independent Hollywood producer, who said in November that he has known Hastings since the mayor’s days as a stand-up comedian in L.A., and has followed his travels to Highland County and his political career.
Authentic Entertainment has produced many popular shows including “Ace of Cakes,” “Flipping Out!,” “Toddlers & Tiaras,” “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,”‘ “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” “Auction Kings” and many more series and specials airing on Discovery Channel, Food Network, TLC, History Channel, National Geographic, Showtime, Planet Green, Travel Channel, Animal Planet, Bravo, Sundance Channel, and WEtv.
Olkkonen arrived in town on Monday and is staying through Wednesday. She said that one of the challenges of deciding whether a show will work is determining whether there is a natural set of events that will move a storyline forward “so we don’t have to propel the storyline.”
Olkkonen said her company tries to stay true to its name and keep its shows authentic. She said the goal is to capture real people and events without creating manufactured controversies or situations.
During her visit, Olkkonen was spending time with Hastings, but also meeting various people and visiting businesses in town. She said that the goal of a reality show would be to present Hastings and the people of Hillsboro as they are, and not to hold anyone up to ridicule.
“We are not out to make fun of anyone,” said Olkkonen. Referring to “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” she said that the people on that show are, in daily life, just as they appear on TV. That includes the mother of Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, June “Mama June” Shannon, who is “very aware” of her public image and how she is portrayed, said Olkkonen.
Olkkonen said she sees the Hillsboro show as “a look at small town America and small town politics, with Drew as your way in.”
In an earlier interview, Taylor, the independent producer, said reality television is moving away from “urban conflict” shows and into programs that reflect a more authentic concept of rural or small-time life, such as “Duck Dynasty,” the hit program focusing on the lives of the Robertson family, who became successful with a family-operated business, Duck Commander.
“The trend now is toward a softer and warmer, less belligerent theme,” said Taylor. “And I hope it keeps going.”
Olkkonen said the next step is to return to Hillsboro with a small crew to produce a “sizzle reel” - a short sample of what the show would be - and then shop it to various networks to gauge interest. If there is interest, a pilot would be produced, and if that got the green light, a full-blown show would be put into production, with anywhere from six to 10 original episodes produced for a first season, she said.
In an earlier interview, Hastings said, “I’m not necessarily crazy about this idea. My first reaction was, thanks but no thanks. But then I thought, I owe it to the city to present the possibility, because a lot of money could come into the town and the businesses. The question is, is it good for Hillsboro?”
He added that if the proposed reality show seems like it’s really going to happen, he would discuss it with city council before moving forward with it.
“This is like a big employer coming to town,” said Hastings. “It’s only going to happen if there’s a firm commitment to our economic development, in hard dollars.”
Taylor said he has seen the benefits that come to a community featured on a hit television series.
“It does two things,” he said. “First, you have a reasonably-sized crew spending four months a year in town. The echo effect is that people want to go see the place they’re watching on TV each week. It becomes a tourist destination.”
Olkkonen said Tuesday she will return to Los Angeles and meet with Authentic Entertainment officials to discuss the elements that would make the best show about Hastings and Hillsboro.
“What are those storylines? Who are those characters?” are the questions the producers will attempt to answer, she said.
Gary Abernathy may be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.