There has been a lot of buzz here in Charleston about all the new television shows either currently shooting in town or merely rumored to be headed our way in the coming months. Taking advantage of the state's new film incentives, producers seem intent to fill every empty bit of the city's public spaces with trailers, lights, cameras, and minimum-wage extras. While this is certainly a boon for many in the form of jobs and a chance to be in the limelight, the city's leaders have just realized that there are often downsides to taking center stage on the nation's small screen.
While the initial buzz over Reckless seemed positive, many are now upset about the CBS show thanks to an apparently leaked script of the pilot. Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Police Chief Greg Mullen in particular were not pleased with the portrayal of Charleston and its police department.
And then there's Bravo TV's Southern Charm, which turned heads with its promise to celebrate the modern Southern aristocracy, including disgraced former state treasurer Thomas Ravenel, in all of its Real Housewives glory. The show received some bad press when South of Broad residents complained about the show shooting late at night and then when Ravenel was charged with a DWI in the Hamptons in June. Meanwhile, completely unsubstantiated rumors about a season of The Real World shooting in the Holy City caused both a fair amount of excitement and an equal number of cries of "Oh, please, not here."
All of this attention, naturally, leads many to question just what these shows will mean for the Charleston Brand™, in particular, Mayor Riley and Chief Mullen. But the mayor and police chief doth protest too much. Certainly they knew from the start that any television show is going to have one concern and one concern only for its producers, namely, "How do we make money?"
Of course, how you make money in television is exactly how you make it in almost any media venture: you stir up some sort of controversy, get plenty of people talking about said controversy, and sit back and count the ad revenue as it pours in. While some of these ventures might lay claim to some concept of "the greater good" for the community, network television and its cable television cousins are ultimately concerned with the money they can make off of people who, like South Carolina, are perfectly willing to cut them bargain-basement tax rates to debase their citizenship.
Perhaps, if Mayor Riley was interested in counterbalancing the possible deleterious effects of Reckless and other shows, he could ask the citizens of Charleston to step up and produce TV programming for the people of the city by the people of the city. There is no shortage of local talent in this area who could create entertaining content that could offer a more accurate portrayal.
The best part of this plan is that it wouldn't have to cost the taxpayers of Charleston a single additional penny in tax revenue. You may wonder how it's possible that the City of Charleston could operate a small TV studio without raising tax revenue to support it, and the answer is quite simple: If you're a cable television subscriber, you are already paying for it.
The City of Charleston's budget states that it expects to receive around $1.6 million dollars this year in cable television franchise fees. A close look at your cable bill will tell you how much you are contributing monthly to that amount, but what you won't find is information on what is being done with it.
In other cities, franchise fee revenue is used to create what are known as public, educational, and government channels, or PEG. Some larger cities and metropolitan areas have more than one channel, but, sadly, most barely have one functional station. Charleston is one of these cities; it has only a government channel in operation. Ostensibly, the public channel is operated by Comcast itself, who will charge you for the studio time and equipment that you have, in theory at least, already paid for. You might recall that a few years ago C2, the Comcast "public" channel, had about a dozen shows, but if you look at its schedule now, it apparently runs only a few including the once wildly popular Shop Talk.
It seems like now would be an excellent time for the people of Charleston to ask their leaders some hard questions about why they don't have access to a public resource that they are paying for, especially if the city leadership is concerned about how the for-profit television world is going to depict us.