by Paul Bowers
U.S. Senate candidate Thomas Ravenel says he will no longer participate in filming of the Charleston-based reality TV show Southern Charm. He says he notified the show's producers of his decision after a debate Monday night in Columbia in which he squared off against Democratic challenger Brad Hutto.
"They wanted to film me going up to the debate, and I told them, 'Absolutely no,' and they said, 'We'll just send an NBC affiliate,'" Ravenel says. "I'm thinking it'll be the local television station. Well, instead they sent the entire Bravo crew, so the story the next day was that the Bravo crew tried to gain entry into the debate and were denied entry. They lied to me. So I just sent them a note saying I'm not going to participate in any more Bravo shows."
In case you haven't been following the storyline, Ravenel is the former state treasurer of South Carolina. He resigned from the position in July 2007 after being indicted on federal cocaine distribution charges and has since led what could mildly be called an eclectic lifestyle: eight months in federal prison, two months on house arrest, a few rounds of polo, some public flirtation with the idea of renouncing his citizenship, threatening to buy the City Paper and fire everyone who works here, and an alleged drunk driving incident in the Hamptons, all while acting as head of the Ravenel Development Corporation. Oh yeah, and he started hanging out with film director Whitney Sudler-Smith, who in addition to looking like the poor man's Jason Bateman is also an executive producer of Southern Charm.
The show centers on the foibles of purportedly blue-blooded man-babies as they wrestle with real-life dramatic scenarios including polo dates, restaurant openings, and suspenseful paternity tests (oh yeah, T-Rav is a dad now). During the filming of the second season, which is taking place right now, Ravenel's run as a petition candidate to unseat Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is apparently becoming a plot point.
"I was advised if they were to cover it in the background I could get my views out to a larger audience, but I think Graham has successfully turned the narrative into 'This is all about Bravo, he's not serious, this is a circus,'" Ravenel says. Graham has refused to engage Ravenel in a debate, telling the City Paper that he has a responsibility not to let the election "turn into a circus."
That brings us to Monday night, when Ravenel participated in a debate hosted by SCETV in Columbia. Only Ravenel and Democrat Hutto participated; Graham and Libertarian candidate Victor Kocher were notably absent. Ravenel says that, despite Bravo’s promises that there would only be “an NBC affiliate” present to film him at the debate, his campaign team saw an entire Bravo camera crew attempting to gain access to the venue. He says he was upset the next morning to read media reports stating that Bravo had been turned away at the door.
“I just told them I’m not going to participate anymore, because after that last lie, the whole story is about Bravo trying to gain entry, which furthers the Graham narrative that it’s all about Bravo,” Ravenel says. “It’s not. I’m dead serious about this campaign, and I have been from day one.”
The “all about Bravo” narrative to which Ravenel is referring has been put forth in outlets including The Post and Courier, and it holds that Ravenel is effectively being paid by Bravo to campaign. But campaign finance records from June 30 show that Ravenel had already invested nearly $235,000 of his own money in the campaign, which Ravenel says dwarfs the amount he’s making to appear on the show. Ravenel says the cable network only pays him $5,000 per episode.
According to Ravenel, the camera crew that followed him to Columbia Monday night was the last straw. He says Bravo also broke another promise to him in season one.
“It’s the same thing they did last year when I was getting into the shower, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t have any clothes on, you guys are just going to go from the waist up,’ and they said, ‘Yeah,’ and then they showed my fanny,” Ravenel says. “They’re liars. They just flat-out lied to me.”
A spokesman for NBC Universal, Bravo’s parent company, did not respond to a request for comment.