A film-editor friend of mine in L.A. recently complained that it looked like he'd be spending much of 2014 in Alabama working on a reality-TV project his company had optioned.
He wasn't free to give details, but it clearly wasn't going to be about the private lives of the scientists at the Marshall Space Centre in Huntsville.
If any message came through to TV programmers in 2013, it was that there's gold in them thar hicks. It was the Year of the Yokel, beginning and ending with Duck Dynasty news. The year began with the Robertson family of West Monroe, La., demanding $200,000-an-episode from A&E, the channel formerly known as Arts & Entertainment. It was a steal, many said, since it included patriarch Phil, his brother Si, and Phil's sons Willie, Jep and Jace.
It ended with Phil being suspended from the show this month by A&E for comments equating homosexuality to bestiality in a GQ interview (GQ?), otherwise devoted to the virtues of killing and eating ducks and squirrels.
I'm guessing Phil will return, since A&E is loath to mess too much with a show that routinely pulls more viewers than the series finale of Breaking Bad.
In the meantime, there's always Swamp People, Moonshiners and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. On hiatus is Cajun Pawn Stars, a spinoff which inspired a page on Facebook protesting its depictions of Louisianans as hillbillies and in-bred hicks.
Of course, Hollywood TV has always looked to the hills and swamps for laughs, back to the Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres and Hee Haw (all originally on the "Tiffany Network" CBS) and on to The Dukes Of Hazzard. But back then it was fictionalized and scripted and didn't purport to be real.
I say purport, because Duck Dynasty clearly scripts its wacky situations, and Moonshiners is the most transparent of all. Week after week, the various 'shiners are on the verge of getting arrested and just get away (maybe not quite as dramatically as Bo and Luke Duke). But, um, their faces are all on video, and they're shown in the act of distilling illegal liquor. Hmm.
Oh wait. Rob Ford. Never mind.
Also, Jesus may be behind the wheel of the moonshine truck. Like Phil Robertson, Steven Ray Tickle of Moonshiners is convinced he's within biblically-approved bounds. He told Zap2it, "A lot of people in the moonshine community have a very strong belief in God as well. You can't go wrong with the Man Upstairs."
Scripted and set-up it may be. But encouraging people to live down to stereotypes does come with risk - as we also saw in 2013 with the accidental carbon monoxide poisoning death of Shain Gandee of MTV's Buckwild, which followed the egged-on adventures of hard-partying young West Virginians. The show was cancelled, partly as a result of a crusade by a West Virginia senator.
Will audiences in 2014 continue to be transfixed by people without their full sets of teeth and who walk around accompanied by banjo music?
Well, the original Golden Age of hick programs was ended by the legendary network exec Fred Silverman, who cancelled The Beverly Hillbillies in 1971, and whose market research showed their audiences were too downscale for advertisers. For now, Duck Dynasty merch alone is worth millions.
Heck, even the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, two days after removing Duck Dynasty-related products from its shelves earlier this week, announced it was putting them back. They even apologized to fans of the reality series to boot.
Even with a Southern accent, money talks.