The House that MTV built
SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On a weekday, in the middle of a workday, Beechwood Drive in South Charleston is mostly quiet, except for a few small dogs yapping at strangers from behind the safety of a chain-link fence. From the street, you can hear the low hum of cars on the highway and the distant sounds of Charleston.
Beechwood Drive, just on the other side of the Charleston city limits, seems like a nice neighborhood. But back in the spring, it wasn't. For about six weeks, MTV shot parts of its upcoming "reality" show "Buckwild" at a yellow house on the street.
Melissa Whitman and her family live across from it.
"The realtor told me that they'd just rented the house to a television show and that she'd arranged for some girls to move in," the 37-year-old mother of two said. "She couldn't tell me who or why because she said she'd signed a confidentiality agreement but that I could Google it."
Whitman said that she and her husband, Michael, checked it out and saw something about MTV filming a series in West Virginia. A few weeks later, four girls moved in.
"The first few weeks we didn't hear too much from them," she said.
And then one day, half a dozen black SUVs with out-of-state plates showed up, and that's when things got weird.
For the next month, Whitman said the MTV camera crew's vehicles choked the narrow street and blocked the entrances to people's homes at different hours. She said they frequently shot in the middle of the night, bathed the area in light and seemed not to care whether they interfered with the lives of people in the neighborhood.
Whitman said they were obnoxious and inconsiderate ... and then there were the show's stars.
"I want to say that it all has to do with being young," she said. "Someone tells you they can make you famous and give you some money, and you think sure, but if I'd behaved like those kids did when I was their age, my father would have hung me upside down until I came to my senses."
The show's production was chaotic and noisy, but Whitman said the worst thing was the language, which often turned profane.
"It got so bad, I'd leave the house and have to put my hands over my 5-year-old's ears."
Whitman said the neighborhood has a lot of young children. Nobody was happy about the disturbances, but there seemed to be little anyone could do about it.
"The police were up here," she said. "They came up a couple of times to tell them to quiet it down, but the second the cops were gone, they went right back to it."
That the cast and crew could continue shooting where they left off might underscore something Whitman noticed. For a reality show, a lot of "Buckwild" looked faked.
"Of course, it was made up," she said. "All of this was coaxed, coerced, scripted or whatever."
Whitman said she watched them re-shoot and tweak scenes.
She said, "The big moving-in scene was shot two weeks after the girls were already living there. They shot the scene with the kid throwing trash into the back of the garbage truck at the end of the street.
"The old people who live there have no idea what they were doing outside of their house."
Some of the confrontations, she said, are also staged. In the show's promotional trailer, a black woman with dark red hair is seen confronting the cast. Whitman said it was completely manufactured.
"She doesn't live here," Whitman said. "She was visiting some people next door. The director got her to come over. He told her what to say. They must have shot that scene six times."
The girls moved out in the middle of May. Members of the film crew took over the house as a place to stay, except for when it was needed for re-shoots.
"We didn't have much trouble from the camera guys," she said.
Whitman remembers wistfully when MTV used to play music videos. "Buckwild" seems so far from that, and the show bothers her.
It bothers her that "Buckwild" appears to be about a group of mostly middle-class kids, some of whom went to school in South Hills, doing their best to make the state look awful.
And she hates that they did this in her neighborhood, across the street from her house.
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.