Ric Cavender, Andy Milovich: Why not showcase the 'wonderful' in W.Va.?
It was bound to happen. First came "seven strangers picked to live in a house." Then arrived four pregnant teenagers.
Followed by eight over-tanned and over-sexed Italian-Americans living in a beach house in Seaside Heights, N.J.
Finally, in the entertainment industry's ratings-chasing race to the bottom, we are presented with Buckwild, MTV's newest reality series "set" in Sissonville, W.Va.
The show is billed on the network's website as "an authentic comedic series following an outrageous group of childhood friends from the rural foothills of West Virginia who love to dodge grown-up responsibilities and always live life with the carefree motto, 'whatever happens, happens.' "
Last week, a two-minute trailer was released online and met with a divided response.
The contents of the trailer include the elements that reality television has recycled for years: alcohol-charged members of the millennial generation (many of whom are underage) acting outrageously against whatever backdrop allows the producers to repackage their tired storyline.
The negative stereotypes embraced by the show have many community leaders dreading the show's Jan. 3 premier.
In all likelihood, the proliferation of cable and satellite television offerings meant it was a matter of "when," not "if," the reality TV world turned its cameras toward "Wild and Wonderful West Virginia" to rerun its storyline.
Executive Producer J.P. Williams, a Morgantown native, has been involved in other cultural phenomena like "The Blue Collar Comedy Tour," stand-up comedy specials, and a number of "Larry the Cable Guy" productions.
The expectation is that Buckwild will be a ratings bonanza.
But what do we make of the aspersions it casts on West Virginia?
Will it hurt our efforts with respect to tourism or economic development? Will it encourage impressionable kids to make choices that undermine their future and the prospects of our state?
Author Charles R. Swindol once said: "I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it."
We can borrow the show's motto and let "whatever happens, happen" and bemoan the inaccurate and unfair challenges presented by this stereotypical portrayal.
Or we can embrace our inner P.T. Barnum and engage the opportunity it presents.
In a 2011 Charleston Daily Mail interview, Williams said: "West Virginia is one of the prettiest states" he has seen.
Though Buckwild does not appear to properly represent Charleston and our culture, it does present a chance to show the rest of the country that West Virginia is, in fact, one of the prettiest states, and that Charleston is a diverse and eclectic city that offers a unique mix that caters to a very broad demographic.
Now that we've reaffirmed our commitment to this great city and state, we have a request for Williams:
As a former West Virginian, take this opportunity you've been given and make it an advertisement for the great ways to experience all the Mountain State has to offer.
The cast members can be found in any corner of this great country, but the scenery and cultural surroundings are what make us "Wild and Wonderful".
How can Williams cash in on this cultural phenomenon in a way that lifts the state?
Take the cast to the New River Gorge and center an episode plot on a white-water rafting trip, zip-lining adventure, or during Bridge Day.
Script an episode featuring a cast tour of the Greenbrier. Film them experiencing any cultural offering during FestivALL, at The Clay Center, or at Appalachian Power Park.
Provide an opening to showcase the beauty of our state and the diversity of our city.
Better yet, allocate a percentage of profits to produce a national television ad campaign for West Virginia - kind of like the "Visit California" commercial that features celebrities dispelling all the misperceptions about the Golden State.
There aren't many other states that can provide such a naturally beautiful background, regardless of what's happening in the foreground.
It's only natural to lament the challenges this show creates with respect to growing and advancing our community, but it could be an incredible opportunity as well.
Meeting planners, entrepreneurs, and the majority of Americans recognize the absurdity of such scripted "reality" television, but that won't prevent everyone from referencing the show when they meet a West Virginian.
Individually, we have an opportunity to use the discussion that the show will generate as a chance to share the true story of West Virginia and the renaissance our region is enjoying.
Store the link from the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau's new promotional video in your smart phone.
Send it to anyone who mentions the show, and use it as a chance to sell our state and engage others with your personal affinity for our home.
Although Buckwild isn't exactly what we had in mind for an "authentic comedic series" based in West Virginia, those in charge of production can easily put us on the map - not for rolling tires down a hill or swimming in the bed of a truck, but for the natural beauty the state possesses and the genuineness for which the great people of this state are known.
Cavender, a graduate of Sissonville High School and West Virginia State University, is executive director of Charleston East End Main Street, an economic development and historic preservation organization. Milovich is executive vice president of the West Virginia Power and president of the board of Charleston East End Main Street.