"Sons of Anarchy" achieved a small miracle, getting us to care about both the cops and the crooks. Can a reality show do the same? We'll see, when "Outlaw Country" debuts at 10 p.m. Tuesday (yes, that's the old "Sons of Anarchy" spot), Feb. 24, rerunning often. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
For anyone mourning
the end of “Sons of Anarchy,” this may be consolation.
In the same slot (10
p.m. Tuesdays), with the same moods (tough and tougher) is “Outlaw
Country.” Cops and ex-cons battle for control of small-town
The difference: This
one is a reality show.
In Missouri (the
exact center of the American mainland), next to Independence (Harry
Truman's old home town), near Kansas City, is Buckner. “It's
American flags and picket fences and football games on Friday night,”
said producer Jason Hervey. “People are very friendly; they wave,
they talk to you.”
And some of them
beat each other brutally. Cops say “The Alliance” controls the
region's drug traffic.
In the cowboy
tradition, this has brothers. Mike and Steve Cook are cops, chasing
John and Josh Monk.
In some ways, both
sides – tough and terse – fit their expected image. In others,
John Monk, Hervey
says, is “a great father” (after being a bad one at first), about
to become a grandfather. His younger brother is the “invite coach”
at Maywood Baptist Church; “to listen to him preach for an hour (to
a men's group) is mesmerizing.”
These people don't
always look like cops and crooks ... and Hervey doesn't look like a
TV producer. He kind of looks like the mean older brother on “The
Wonder Years” ... which he was.
For six “Wonder”
seasons, Fred Savage was Kevin Arnold and Hervey was Wayne. Both
still act, but they mostly moved to the other side – Savage as a
busy comedy director, Hervey as a producer.
The change began
during a guest stop at World Championship Wrestling. Hervey met
producer Eric Bischoff; they formed a production company that went
from wrestling specials to reality shows featuring Hulk Hogan,
Chicago pawnbrokers, former teen idols and Hervey's friend Scott
Along the way,
Hervey met a guy simply called Chucky, a “Sons of Anarchy”
protege. Chucky pointed him toward Buckner; they flew there, met with
the mayor and police chief ... and promptly got a call from John
Monk, setting up a meeting in the basement of Monk's tattoo shop.
“It was 2 or 2:30
in the morning,” Hervey recalled. “It was dark in the basement,
which can be a little eerie .... Chucky and I went down this long,
Downstairs, they saw
a boat, a hot rod, a motorcycle, some tattoo equipment, two Monks and
others. This can be imposing company for a sometimes actor, 5-foot-6,
who is overshadowed (literally) by Chucky or the cops or the Monks.
“As long as you go in with integrity and confidence, I feel like
you can look anyone in the eye,” Hervey insists.
The message that
night was basic, he said. “John Monk said, 'Look, no one can tell
our story as well as we can.'” Soon, camera crews were following
both the Cooks and the Monks.
actually sprawls over a broad area. For instance:
-- The tattoo shop –
which the task force raids on-camera -- is in Gladstone, a suburb of
28,000, north of Kansas City and about 20 miles from Buckner. It's
large, with a Web site promising a “super friendly staff” and
“highly fashionable tattoos.”
-- The church is in
Independence, population 110,000), midway between those two. Its Web
site displays Josh Monk's knuckles, still dangerous-looking but now
tattooed with “Jesus saves.”
-- The task force is
federal, combining jurisdictions. Steve Cook, a detective with the
police force in Independence, is its liaison to Buckner, a town of
3,000, where his brother is police chief.
Country” focuses on Buckner, just as “Sons of Anarchy” did on
the fictional California town of Charming. Amid picket-fence charm,
tough men collide.
Country,” 10 p.m. Tuesdays, WGN America, repeating at 11 p.m. and
-- Opener, Feb. 24,
also reruns at 10 and 11 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 26) and 10 p.m. Sunday