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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Cable networks are featuring a growing list of reality shows with outrageous characters who play up Southern stereotypes, but few states can boast more programs than Louisiana and its reputation for rough-hewn, blue-collar casts.
Georgia has Alana Thompson, the 7-year-old beauty pageant regular who stars in TLC's "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." Alabama has "Rocket City Rednecks" who make moonshine-fueled rockets for fun in the National Geographic Channel series, and Florida is the site of A&E's "Lady Hoggers," about women who wrestle and hunt wild boars.
But Louisiana is home to a number of programs. Besides the alligator-wrangling Cajuns on History's "Swamp People," the bayou state now has a series about men who trap swamp rodents on Spike TV's "Rat Bastards" — the second "A'' is replaced by an asterisk in the show's logo — and another about a family of duck-hunters who earn a living making duck calls and decoys on A&E's "Duck Dynasty."
"It's a bastion of colorful, larger-than-life characters that are authentic, unfiltered and live by their own rules," said Eliot Goldberg, executive producer of CMT's "Bayou Billionaires," which premiered its second season Saturday.
Goldberg, who is also CMT's senior vice president for development and original programming, said the network's two highest-rated TV series — "Bayou Billionaires" and "My Big Redneck Vacation" — are both filmed in Louisiana.
The reason for Louisiana's popularity is two-fold: Networks can take advantage of the state's generous TV and film tax credit program and tap into a rich and colorful culture, said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who sponsored the 2002 bill granting tax credits for television and film production in Louisiana. Four new shows launched this year alone.
While some say the programs sensationalize Southern culture for entertainment, others maintain the shows are all in good fun.
"Why be offended?" said "Bayou Billionaires" star Gerald Dowden, who said he takes it as a compliment when his show is compared to a modern-day "Beverly Hillbillies." It centers on a working middle-class Louisiana family — Dowden, his wife, Kitten, and their extended family — that comes into money after discovering their home sits on top of the Haynesville Shale.
Dowden said he has no hang-ups about why he's on TV: "We talk slow. We smile a lot, and we just enjoy life. That's why people like us."
Other shows have not been well-received or have run into trouble off-camera.
A&E's "Cajun Justice" followed Terrebonne Parish sheriff's deputies in south Louisiana, but the department's new sheriff refused to sign on for a second season.
"It was a joke," said Sheriff Jerry Larpenter, who was not sheriff when "Cajun Justice" was filmed. He said he was disappointed with the results that aired this summer. "It was ridiculous and a horrible insult to the people of south Louisiana."
In 2010, "Steven Seagal: Lawman," which filmed the deputized actor on ride-alongs with Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies, was suspended after a former assistant to the actor claimed Seagal fondled her. Seagal denied the allegations, and a sexual harassment lawsuit against him was dismissed earlier this year in Los Angeles.
William "Billy" Bretherton, star of the A&E show "Billy the Exterminator," and his wife, Mary, were arrested in June on drug possession charges. The Brethertons have pleaded not guilty. The show, which follows Bretherton as he eradicates roaches, mice, snakes and other pests from Louisiana homes and businesses, remains on the air.
Still, new shows keep coming.
"Big Easy Justice" premiered in April on Spike TV, featuring a bounty hunter known as "Tat-2" who tracks New Orleans criminals. "Rat Bastards" debuted in July, also on Spike TV, and follows a group of men who hunt nutria — an invasive rodent that wreaks havoc on fragile wetlands by devouring the roots of erosion-stopping marsh plants.
"Louisiana Lockdown" is a new series by Animal Planet that follows life inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, which has a prison work program where inmates farm, raise animals and compete in an annual prison rodeo. The show currently airs on Fridays.
Other reality shows filmed in Louisiana in recent years include History's "Cajun Pawn Stars" and "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy," MTV's "The Real World," BET's "Sunday Best" and Discovery's "Sons of Guns."