Martha's Vineyard comes of age in eyes of reality TV
File photo by Steve Myrick
Grab the television remote and get ready. ABC Family announced in a press release that it has picked up "The Vineyard," described as a dramatic coming-of-age docu-soap, which follows a handful of 20-somethings on Martha's Vineyard for the summer.
"Tight quarters, new friends and new rivals, all living, working and playing together, make this picturesque playground ripe for mischief and romance," ABC said.
"The Vineyard" is created and executive-produced by Dave Broome, producer of the "Biggest Loser," and Brian Smith ("Masterchef") and 25/7 productions. Filming is expected to begin in May for eight one-hour episodes.
Closed auditions for pre-screened locals are scheduled this Thursday and Friday at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven. On Saturday and Sunday, the casting directors will be in Boston meeting with college kids — both Islanders attending area schools and students who are interested in spending the summer on the Island.
In a telephone conversation with The Times, Mr. Broome stressed that the show would provide a fair portrayal of the Vineyard, its residents, and the community, and that the cast and crew will keep a very low profile.
"A show like this is very different from 'Jaws' being filmed on the Island," Mr. Broome said. "These are small footprints by design. We'll use three cameras. We travel in passenger vans. 99.999 percent of the people won't know where we are."
As for content, Mr. Broome was emphatic. He said it would not be Jersey Shore, a series that followed the lives of eight housemates at the Jersey Shore who excelled in boorish behavior. "The Vineyard is not intended to portray any stereotypes, disrespect the community, or present a negative image of young people and their lifestyle," he said.
This is not Mr. Broome's first effort to capitalize on Vineyard reality. In February 2009 his company advertised for young people between the ages of 19 and 28 who wanted to compete for a chance to star in a primetime television show to be set on Martha's Vineyard.
"New friends are made, others fade away, lust simmers, and sometimes, mistakes are made with no regret. But one thing is for sure, you'll never forget your summer on The Vineyard," read the promotional material. But it was not until last month that the concept found a home with ABC.
The news that reality TV — popularly associated with gators, lumberjacks, pawn shops and Snookie of Jersey Shore fame — had discovered the Island drew gasps from one Island resident.
"This is such a bad idea that I don't even want to think about it," wrote Virginia Jones of West Tisbury in an email to The Times and other recipients. "As to content, what the Hell are they going to include: dysfunctional families, drug use/abuse, and folks living below the median income in substandard conditions, while working three jobs? If anyone has any influence to stop this please let's talk."
In a follow-up conversation, Ms. Jones told The Times, "I don't think Martha's Vineyard needs any more exposure. We already have more people in the summer than we can comfortably accommodate. The problem is we don't have a viable, sustainable year-round economy. More exposure and anything that gives the Island a wow factor and makes it sound glitzy and glamorous and fun isn't going to help any of our problems."
The majority of comments on the show's newly created Facebook page have not been kind. Brandy Starr Ringle wrote, "I wish there was a hate button!"
"There's nothing that can be said to give the sheer idiocy and stupidity of this show idea justice, then again he did make the biggest loser," said Jared Jernagan. "He can be on his own show next season."
But Sean O'Brien had another take "I think this is an opportunity to come together as Islanders and show the rest of the world what it means to be from Martha's Vineyard."
In response to those concerns, Mr. Broome said the show isn't about Martha's Vineyard. "It's a character-driven show about the people who come to Martha's Vineyard," he said. "We're going to embrace the beauty of the Island and the diversity of the population, but it's a character-based show."
Mr. Broome emphasized that the cast and crew will only be on the Island during the early part of the summer. "We'll start shooting in early May. By July 4th, most likely we're out of there," he said.
"We're looking to build relationships on the Vineyard," said Mr. Broome. "Our goal is to have season after season."
Mr. Broome said the show will look at people at a crucial time in their lives. "There is a real ticking clock that happens there unlike other places around the country," he said. "The population changes. Kids go there to work, to play — but the show is really about these kids that are at a crossroads. Whether they're locals or wash-ashores, they're trying to figure out their lives."
Mr. Broome said the Island provides an interesting dynamic. "For three months out of the year there's this mix of all kinds of people interacting together. That's the story we want to tell," he said.
The unscripted show will center on a handful of young people. Some of the visiting kids will live together in a rented house. Some of the cast members will work together at a local business. "There will be eight core characters with lots of other people involved," Mr. Broome said. "We're looking to capture parents, business owners, and other local people. We're not just looking at the kids."
Mr. Broome said he is familiar with the Island. "We know the Vineyard is not spring break central. We need these characters who are full of depth. This is not about a party on the Island. This is about people at a crossroads of their lives and their connections to other people of all ages. This is a very targeted, specific story we're tying to tell."
By reassurance, he added, "This is ABC Family. This is Disney. People should realize what they can expect."
He said a large number of locals and Island business owners have expressed interest in participating in one way or another. "At least half a dozen hotels have reached out asking us for the business. I think that's an incredible sign," said Mr. Broome. "We're going to help pick things up when the Island needs the business. We're going to be spending a lot of money while we're there. We'll be in the restaurants. We'll be in the shops. We'll be employing a lot of locals."
"I know from experience that when you change anything in a place small and quaint like Martha's Vineyard, you ruffle feathers. The local people take a lot of pride in where they live — and they should. We understand that. I think everyone will be really surprised."
"I'm asking people just to wait. To think a little bit. We're excited. I think they're going to be very pleased,"