Northeast Times

Fishtown on the small screen

Would a real­ity show, though it’s not a sure thing, cel­eb­rate Fishtown, or ex­ploit it?

Fishtown is be­ing sized up, like it or not.

A Bo­ston-based tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion com­pany, Powder­house Pro­duc­tions, is de­cid­ing if there is po­ten­tial for a real­ity show about the neigh­bor­hood. Two cast­ing rep­res­ent­at­ives have been hunk­er­ing down in Philly since mid-Oc­to­ber. Some of Powder­house’s cli­ents are Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel, An­im­al Plan­et and PBS.

The first cast­ing call was at Les and Doreen’s Happy Tap, at 1301 E. Susque­hanna Ave., on Fri­day, from 7 to 10 p.m. Star was there for roughly the first two hours, by which time no Fishtown­ers had shown up to be cast. 

What is the com­pany look­ing for, you might ask? That de­pends on which cast­ing ad­vert­ise­ment you read.

Powder­house pos­ted its first cast­ing ad­vert­ise­ment on Craigslist.com on Oct. 11. It read, in part:

“Do you come from a LAR­GER THAN LIFE fam­ily liv­ing in Fishtown PA? Has your way-of-life changed by “out­siders” mov­ing in? Is your neigh­bor­hood hardly re­cog­niz­able with all the yup­pies, hip­sters & scenesters? Are you fed up with fight­ing to pre­serve the tra­di­tions only known to the loc­als? A ma­jor cable pro­duc­tion com­pany is cur­rently cast­ing for a born & bred Fishtown “fam­ily” that are pissed off about the new people mov­ing in­to their neigh­bor­hood…what [do] you HATE about how the place has changed?”

The first post by Powder­house on com­munity mes­sage board Fishtown.us, on Oct. 22, read ex­actly the same, ex­cept “pissed off” had been changed to “vin­egared off.”

The com­pany’s Oct. 31 ad­vert­ise­ment on Fishtown.us, for the Nov. 2 cast­ing call at Happy Tap, was of a much dif­fer­ent tone. It read:

“A ma­jor cable pro­duc­tion com­pany is cur­rently in your town cast­ing for ori­gin­al FISHTOWN FAM­IL­IES that have her­it­age, per­son­al­ity and are not afraid to speak their minds! The po­ten­tial show’s premise is to tell the story of one of the most his­tor­ic neigh­bor­hoods in Amer­ica and CEL­EB­RATE the tra­di­tions and cus­toms that make Fishtown so unique!”

That ad­vert­ise­ment also ap­peared in print in The Spir­it com­munity news­pa­per on Oct. 31.

 Star had sched­uled an in­ter­view Thursday, Oct. 25, with Heath­er John­stone, Powder­house cast­ing pro­du­cer, along with an­oth­er Powder­house staff mem­ber, Sarah Your­grau. John­stone can­celed that in­ter­view via email at mid­night the night be­fore and did not an­swer two fol­low-up emails re­quest­ing to res­ched­ule the in­ter­view.

Alex Lunn, the Powder­house pro­duc­tion as­sist­ant who pub­lishes the com­pany’s posts on Fishtown.us, said in a phone in­ter­view earli­er in Oc­to­ber that the pro­duc­tion com­pany was look­ing for fam­il­ies who are “not lik­ing how things are chan­ging [in Fishtown]” be­cause, as Lunn put it, that “makes for good drama.” However, Lunn said last week, since Powder­house has been “learn­ing more about Fishtown,” she pos­ted the Oct. 31 ad with the new de­scrip­tion of the show’s premise.

The ori­gin­al Craigslist cast­ing ad, Lunn said, used the same lan­guage from Powder­house’s cast­ing call for its Bo­ston-based show, “South­ie Rules,” which would broad­cast on A&E and was sched­uled to be­gin pro­duc­tion in May. A net­work re­lease de­scrib­ing the fam­ily on that show reads:

“They rally to­geth­er for their daily turf war against the yup­pies that are over­run­ning their ter­rit­ory. These ‘South­ies’ will stop at noth­ing to pro­tect their way of life from the oc­cu­pa­tion, that is, if they don’t kill each oth­er first.”

Your­grau and John­stone were present at the cast­ing call Fri­day, but would not speak on the re­cord about any­thing re­lat­ing to the po­ten­tial tele­vi­sion show.

Doreen Thompson, own­er of Les and Doreen’s Happy Tap, said in a phone in­ter­view Nov. 1 that, when Powder­house ap­proached her, she agreed to hold the cast­ing call at her bar be­cause she figured it would be good for busi­ness.

She said she was not aware of any of the cast­ing ad­vert­ise­ments. Asked how she would feel about a show based on the ori­gin­al cast­ing ad­vert­ise­ment, Thompson said, “I wouldn’t go for that. I don’t want neg­at­iv­ity in the bar or in the neigh­bor­hood. I don’t care new or old, I want every­body to get along.”

George Kel­ley, who has worked at Johnny Brenda’s for al­most sev­en years, said he’s very wary of the po­ten­tial show.

“It’s real­ity TV, it’s man­u­fac­tured drama, it’s sen­sa­tion­al,” he said. “I think they’ve made it ob­vi­ous about what they want — angry people, class di­vi­sions, edu­ca­tion di­vi­sions, all those things that are neg­at­ive. It’s in­ev­it­ably go­ing to make the neigh­bor­hood look bad.”

He also said that the cast­ing team ap­proached the own­ers of Johnny Brenda’s, but “they wanted noth­ing to do with it.”

A Powder­house fli­er now pos­ted at Primo Ho­agies at 1501 E. Susque­hanna Ave. calls for a “Big, loud PHILLY/FISHTOWN fam­ily,” with “LAR­GER-THAN-LIFE per­son­al­it­ies that are meant for TV.”

An em­ploy­ee at Primo Ho­agies, who wished to be iden­ti­fied only by “Fran,” said over the phone Monday he be­lieves a tele­vi­sion show won’t di­vide the neigh­bor­hood, and that what he’s heard so far has been mostly pos­it­ive.

“It [the re­ac­tion he’s hear­ing] is mostly people jok­ing around, like ‘You want a Fishtown fam­ily? I got one for ya.’ I haven’t had too much, ‘What the hell is this?’” Fran said.

Jill Bet­ters, pres­id­ent of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, said in an email mes­sage: “I am very skep­tic­al, as most real­ity shows today do not por­tray any of the people that par­ti­cip­ate in a good light. Clev­er edit­ing and scrip­ted storylines make the char­ac­ters look simple and pre­dict­able.”

Bet­ters also said she be­lieves the show could be try­ing to make a “moun­tain out of a mole­hill.”

“Sure, Fishtown is chan­ging, but the people who live here are not stu­pid,” she said. “It doesn’t mat­ter if you have lived here five months or 50 years, most every­one gets along and wants what’s best for the neigh­bor­hood,” she said.

Star Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­on@bsmphilly.com.

UP­DATE FROM PRINT VER­SION: Powder­house may be mov­ing on from cast­ing in Fishtown. A new Nov. 5 Craigslist post reads:

“Do you come from a large and LAR­GER THAN LIFE fam­ily liv­ing in South Philly, PA? Are you a cheesesteak eat­ing, Eagles lov­ing, pride­ful South Philly ori­gin­al that in­tends on be­ing a loc­al for life? Is your fam­ily full of big per­son­al­it­ies that can’t fit un­der one roof? Do you, your fam­ily and per­haps even ex­ten­ded fam­ily live in the same house or work in a fam­ily owned and op­er­ated busi­ness? We want to meet YOU!

A ma­jor cable pro­duc­tion com­pany is cur­rently cast­ing born & bred South Philly fam­il­ies that have big per­son­al­it­ies and are not afraid to speak their mind! If you are in­ter­ested, please provide us with a brief bio of you, your fam­ily and its dy­nam­ic, in­di­vidu­al and fam­ily pho­tos, your oc­cu­pa­tions and what you LOVE about your South Philly roots! Please in­clude your con­tact in­form­a­tion (phone num­ber & email) as we have a pro­duc­tion team in the area meet­ing fam­il­ies and loc­al busi­nesses. We will put you in touch if you would like to be con­sidered!”

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

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