To: The people of Homer, Alaska
Re: National Geographic’s “Old Believers”
Tomorrow night (Tuesday, January 29, 2013), producers from National Geographic Television will invite all interested residents who live in and around Homer, Alaska, to a casting call for a new “docu-series” about the Old Believers.
As you ponder your options — and the money that’s being offered as an incentive for your participation — it might be prudent to consider the recent case of the Hutterites of Montana’s King Ranch Colony.
The short version: In September 2011, a producer representing National Geographic promised the Hutterites — in a legally signed contract — that he would make a “documentary” which would “celebrate Participants’s way of life as a model for family values.” However, that is not what the producer delivered.
Instead, the 10-part TV series American Colony: Meet The Hutterites is a “reality” show which included many scenes that were dreamed up, then staged and shot to increase the program’s dramatic punch. Wesley is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance because he’s having a heart attack? That was fake. The drunk Hutterite teens who accidentally burned down the “barn”? Totally staged. Clinton driving a car without a license (and then getting arrested)? That stunt, we’re told, was the brain-child of the TV production team.
Meet The Hutterites has been deeply embarrassing and painfully divisive for members of the Hutterite community. And now their pain and embarrassment has gone global: the show, which premiered last summer in the United States, is now being broadcast all over the world on the National Geographic Channel.
(For the longer version — with supporting documents, correspondence, production notes, testimonials, media coverage, and more — please see this page.)
Afew weeks ago, lawyer Jeffrey Sveen, who represents Montana’s Hutterite community, sent yet another letter to David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel (and the former head of the now-defunct Fox Reality Channel). In his letter (please see below), Mr. Sveen outlines the many problems the Hutterites have faced during their brief encounter with National Geographic, and respectfully asks Mr. Lyle to take remedial action.
More than three weeks later, Mr. Lyle has still refused to respond.
His silence is deafening, for Mr. Sveen’s letter indirectly raises — and answers — some critical questions about David Lyle:
- What sort of person is Mr. Lyle?
- Should the people of Homer, Alaska, trust him?
- If problems arise during the production of the Old Believers “docu-series,” will Mr. Lyle be there to support to the community?
- Most of all: Would the global reputation of the Old Believers be safe in Mr. Lyle’s hands?
Please give it some thought. Because if you wait, and ask these questions in six months… well, it’ll be six months too late.