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During floor debate, a Republican legislator complained that state expenditures on TV and film productions have extended to a long-running series celebrating cheating spouses.
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg of Parker initially asked a House colleague about his proposed amendment to the House version of the 2014-15 state budget.
Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, said he sought to shift money from the state’s film and music marketing fund to teacher pensions. When last we wrote about the fund, overseen by the governor’s office, we noted the 2011 Legislature had agreed to spend $16 million each year to "market Texas as a film location and promote the Texas music industry," according to the May 26, 2011, House-Senate conference committee report.
Laubenberg asked Leach: "Would you like me to give you a couple of examples of things being funded with this money?" At Leach’s go-ahead, Laubenberg replied: "How about ‘Bad Kids Go to Hell,’ ‘Cheaters,’ ...a TV series on spouses cheating on their wives, kind of glorifying the act of cheating--yeah, entertainment for some, unless you’re the one cheated on."
After listing other entertainment projects she described as helped along with state funds, Laubenberg closed: "You know, if you want to watch this, fine, but I think you ought to do it on your own dime and not the state’s dime."
To our inquiry, Laubenberg later left a message saying she had been reading from a list provided by Leach, whose office emailed us a spreadsheet listing more than 400 projects. A header on the spreadsheet says each one was "paid" by the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program through March 2013.
More detail: The incentive program offers "qualifying productions" a shot at payments equaling 5 percent to 17.5 percent of the money they spend in Texas or 8 percent to 29.25 percent of eligible wages paid to Texas residents, according to agency information posted online, depending on budget levels and types of production, with both live-action and animated projects eligible.
The spreadsheet’s sixth entry indicates $74,736.58 was paid March 22, 2013, to Bobby Goldstein Productions in Dallas in connection with "Cheaters," which is described on the sheet as a reality show. Lower entries show previous payments to the company in connection with "Cheaters," $72,714 in May 2012 and $100,082 in May 2011, respectively.
By email, gubernatorial spokesman Josh Havens confirmed the state has paid about $248,000 since May 2011 to the Dallas company that produces "Cheaters," which is among several hundred projects benefiting from such aid.
"The program met the incentive program requirements for economic impact and Texas resident employment," Havens said.
By phone, the show’s executive producer, Bobby Goldstein, told us that he hires more than 20 full-time and probably 30 part-time employees for the show and the company contributes a lot in taxes.
So, is the legislator correct that the series celebrates unfaithfulness?
Not so, Havens replied, pointing out the message that appears at the start of each episode stating that from the program’s "surveillance cameras, you are about to view actual true stories, filmed live, documenting the pain of a spouse or lover caused by infidelity. This program is both dedicated to the faithful and presented to the falsehearted to encourage their renewal of temperance and virtue." (We confirmed the text here.)
Goldstein said: "We don’t make this show and make it look like somebody did something good. We point out they did wrong. It’s sort of a scarlet ‘A.’"
We viewed excerpts of episodes placed on YouTube by viewers. Our impression was the show centers on confrontations between purported cheaters, cheatees and, often, involved third parties. A vivid example involved a cheating man punching his irate girlfriend in a parking lot; blood runs. Another excerpt showed a man being confronted in a bed as a dominatrix edges out of camera range.
Critic Pete Vonder Haar described the show this way in an April 25, 2012, account in the Houston Press, an alternative weekly. "The premise of the show is simplicity itself: a man or woman, suspecting their partner of philandering, contacts the steely professional ‘Cheaters’ investigative team. They, in turn, put the suspected party under surveillance, amassing evidence of their infidelity for presenting to the complainant. A confrontation is ‘arranged’ between the aggrieved party and their wayward lover. Hilarity then ensues, if by ‘hilarity’ you mean emotional breakdowns and the occasional threat of physical violence."
The article, which Goldstein called accurate, says the show is primarily taped in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, though there have been Houston-area forays.
"I’m not one given to hyperbole," Vonder Haar wrote, "but ‘Cheaters’ is as great an American institution as baseball and morbid obesity. Who but the good old U.S. of A. would so brazenly combine our love of moralistic posturing (the wayward partners are referred to as ‘suspects’ as if they were felons) with salacious, albeit (barely) pixelated footage of sexual transgressions."
Finally, we revisited posted state guidelines for the incentives to see if any provision might restrict support for "Cheaters." The guidelines say projects not eligible for the aid include those considered obscene as that term is defined in the state’s penal code, meaning something the "average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex." The code further lists explicit acts defined as obscene and also says something is obscene if taken as a whole, it "lacks serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value."
Havens said in his email that the Texas Film Commission "felt the project fell well short of the definition of obscene."
Laubenberg said the state helped fund a show that glorifies cheating spouses.
Mild point: The state-supported show, "Cheaters," doesn’t limit itself to exposing cheating spouses. We’re not sure, either, that everyone would agree the show glorifies infidelity, considering its theme is to expose the practice and touch off emotional confrontations. The legislator could have clarified that an intended point of the show is that cheaters are wrongdoers.
We rate the claim as Mostly True.
Spreadsheet of "Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program PAID PROJECTS" (received from office of state Rep. Jeff Leach, April 4, 2013)
TV review, "Reality Bites: Cheaters," Peter Vonder Haar, The Houston Press, April 25, 2012
Telephone interview, Bobby Goldstein, ceo of Bobby Goldstein Productions, Dallas, April 9, 2013
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