Reality TV Booms in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS - Alligator hunters, raccoon wranglers and crawfish catchers in Louisiana's critter-filled swamps and bayous are increasingly common on television.

Since the introduction of the History channel's wildly popular "Swamp People" in 2010, roughly a dozen other Louisiana-based reality shows have made their television debuts, among them the Travel Channel's "Girls, Guns and Gators," A&E's "Billy The Exterminator," the History channel's "Cajun Pawn Stars" and the Discovery Channel's "Ragin' Cajuns."

The reason for the recent boom in Louisiana-based reality TV is two-fold, said Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Not only do reality shows filmed in Louisiana take advantage of the state's TV and film tax credit program, but Louisiana has a rich culture that makes for great entertainment, he said.

"There's no question it's a combination of the two," said Dardenne, who sponsored the original 2002 bill granting tax credits for television and film production in Louisiana.

While some reality shows are far-fetched or have little to do with Louisiana, some are actually good for the state's image, Dardenne said. Shows such as "Swamp People" and "Ragin' Cajuns" feature aspects of Louisiana life not found in any other state. They also educate people on issues including coastal erosion and conservation, Dardenne said.

"It captures this interesting, fascinating, very unique aspect of Louisiana life with its beautiful landscape and a strong streak of adventure," Dardenne said. "It's not something you're going to find anywhere else. It's indigenous to Louisiana."

Other reality shows filmed in the state in recent years include MTV's "The Real World", A&E's "Steven Seagal: Lawman" and TLC's "Trashmen" about a New Orleans garbage collection company. Recently, "Bayou Billionaires" and "My Big Redneck Vacation" premiered on CMT, featuring families from north Louisiana.

History channel spokesman Chris Meador said authentic storytelling is an important component in its programming and one reason for the success of "Swamp People." Last season the show drew in more than 4 million viewers, making it one of the network's most watched shows.

News coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill in 2010 has actually increased people's interest in the Gulf Coast region, priming audiences for Louisiana-based programming, Meador said.

"No matter what they go through down there they come back better and come back stronger," Meador said. "While everything that happened happened, they're continuing with the lives that they've always led, that their parents led. I think it's an amazing story and symbolic of the American story. It's the great American success story."

With the premiere of the third season of "Swamp People" set for Feb. 9, History is building a swamp in New York's Chelsea Market this week. It will include alligators, turtles and dozens of 15-foot-tall cypress trees draped in Spanish moss. A wooden dock has been constructed to jut out over the roughly 6,500 gallons of water containing the swamp critters.

Dardenne is traveling to the promotion using BP oil spill funds acquired by the state to help promote Louisiana. Dardenne arranged to bring along a Louisiana woodcarver, a basket weaver, a man who makes paint from Louisiana soil, a Cajun band and a naturalist to talk about the state's unique and fragile ecosystem.

Dardenne said Louisiana is spending roughly $50,000 of the BP oil spill funds to supplement the swamp at Chelsea Market. It will be open to the public from Thursday through Feb. 12.

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