During a Jasper City Council meeting held Tuesday, city officials discussed entering into an agreement with Atlas Media Corporation regarding the TV program currently in development that will feature Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the former heavyweight prizefighter from Walker County who is now a volunteer reserve deputy sheriff for Walker County.
The Council agreed to provide tentative approval until the matter can be further explored during a Jan. 6 work session. The tentative approval gives the production company temporary authorization to continue local filming.
Adam Hadder, the assistant director of the Walker County Narcotics Enforcement Team, urged the Council to allow Jasper’s law enforcement agents to take part in the TV show expected to debut this spring. Filming of the first season of the program is expected to take about two months to complete.
Ryan Robbins, the series producer who attended Tuesday’s Council meeting, said the show will air on the cable channel Investigation Discovery. According to the website www.wikipedia.org, Investigation Discovery features programming about criminal investigations and other crime-related documentaries.
Regarding Esch’s role in the documentary-style show, Robbins said, “We get to learn through his eyes the various tactics they (drug enforcement agents) use.”
Robbins added, “When they go out on a call, maybe to serve a search warrant — they could just be doing traffic stops — he (Esch) is with them, serving in whatever ways he can.”
Robbins said his TV crew’s role will be to capture with their cameras the action of the local law enforcement agents.
“We want to observe the reality,” Robbins said. “We’re not directing police officers to do anything. This is not a scripted television show. It’s a documentary where we observe — and not impact — the action.”
Robbins added that the show could make the NET’s job easier in the future after the show is aired.
“We’ve seen how it has increased the amount of participation from the public where people come in with more tips,” said Robbins, who added that having local law enforcement agents appear on television could make them seem more approachable.
After Jasper police chief Danny Patton said additional “comp time” may have to be paid for city officers participating in the program’s production, Councilor Lee Swann asked Robbins if the city would be compensated for the extra expenses.
Robbins said since his goal is “to not manipulate what you all do,” he hopes the camera crews will not affect the manpower needed.
Swann said he is not convinced there won’t be a “cost factor” and said the Council has a duty to seek compensation for these expenses. “I’m looking at it from a standpoint of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
Hadder, who will act as a liaison between the show’s producers and local law enforcement officers, assured the Council that he will make sure no extra expenses will result from the show’s production.
“I can guarantee you if we’re getting past their 40 hours where they’re going to need comp time, I’ll cut it, we’ll stop ... and we’ll pick it up the next day,” Hadder said.
Jasper officials asked city attorney Russ Robertson to add a provision to the agreement that would ensure that the city will be reimbursed if additional labor costs incur.
Swann also asked if Sheriff John Mark Tirey and Patton would be allowed to give final approval of episodes of the show before they are aired.
Councilor Sandi Sudduth said she too would like to get a sneak peek of the program. She asked Robbins if he could provide a clip that would give city officials a taste of what to expect from the show.
“I just want to make sure we’re not portrayed in a negative image,” she said.
Robbins said his team will be shooting the raw footage and sending it to New York where it will be edited, so he would not have segments available for the Council or local law enforcement officials’ approval.
“Our system is we send footage via FedEx and UPS back to New York where it is edited,” Robbins said.
Also, Robbins said he could not speak about “business” issues of allowing local law enforcement officials to authorize the program’s episodes since he works exclusively “on the creative side.”
However, he volunteered to put Sudduth in touch with officials with Atlas Media Corporation’s home office. “They could discuss providing some footage,” he said.
Robbins, who has worked with law enforcement agencies while working on “The First 48” and other crime shows, said portraying Walker County negatively would be counterproductive.
“From a television perspective, obviously our goal is to create a series that runs for years and years,” Robbins said. “We can only do that by having good relationships with the police department, with the sheriff’s department, and portraying the city, or area we are in, in a positive light. Otherwise, we’d get the boot.”
Hadder said the Walker County Commission has already given its stamp of approval to the project.
Patton said he is still undecided about his feelings regarding the show. However, he said city police officers are eager to take part in the program.
“They’re all for it. I have mixed emotions about it,” Patton said.
Hadder said he is in full support of the project.
“In my opinion ... we’ll never have an opportunity again in Walker County to get some good publicity to Walker County and our drug units — combined together — to show the good work that they do,” Hadder said.
Like Sudduth, Patton said he too is concerned that the show provides an “accurate representation and a positive representation” of the city and county drug units.
Robertson said in regard to legal matters, the proposed agreement between the production company and the community contains an “indemnity clause” that would provide protection from lawsuits that could stem from the show.
“We’re not going to bare any responsibility or liability for the safety of the folks from the company that will be observing our activities,” Robertson said.
Hadder said he believes the show will be similar to “Steven Seagal Lawman,” an A&E reality show that features the action film star working as a fully commissioned deputy with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.