Tea Partiers Create Their Own TV Show and Production Company (Exclusive)

Alexandra Oliver as Sarah Pine
Alexandra Oliver as Sarah Pine
 

Those who belong to the conservative movement known as the Tea Party are acutely aware of the power of popular culture, so they have been cautiously delving into the creation of entertainment that promotes their values. It usually manifests itself in snippets of online political parody. Coming Sunday, though, is perhaps the most ambitious effort yet: A “TV show” created by a couple of Tea Partiers who have formed their own production company.

The one-hour drama is called Courage, New Hampshire, and it premiers Sunday at a movie theater in Monrovia, Calif. Co-hosting the red carpet activities are Saturday Night Live alumna Victoria Jackson and radio personality Tony Katz, both of whom regularly speak at Tea Party rallies.

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Courage has the pacing and feel of a soap opera, though its set in Colonial America. While its creators are making it as a TV show, there’s no distribution partner, so it’s going straight to DVD after the premiere. The company, Colony Bay, is also trying to strike deals with conservative online TV outlets, like Glenn Beck’s GBTV and Kelsey Grammer’s Right Network, and are seeking a television VOD partner.

Colony Bay was founded by James Patrick Riley and Jonathan Wilson, who started in Hollywood as an assistant in ICM’s motion picture literary department and became director of development for Peter Hyams, working on films like End of Days with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They met when Wilson was forming the Pasadena chapter of Tea Partiers and he recruited Riley, an experienced Patrick Henry impersonator, to perform at an event.

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Riley, the wealthy owner of Riley’s American Heritage Farm, a 760-acre apple and pear farm in Oak Glen, Calif. financed the first episode of Courage for $120,000. His money and that of other backers will fund future episodes. The first episode was filmed on the farm, where Riley has dedicated 55 acres to “living-history” educational tourism.

While several cast and crew are Tea Partiers, some were hired through traditional Hollywood channels, so Wilson laid down the law. “Our policy during production was: ‘no politics on set.'"

Outside of college courses and his Patrick Henry roles, Riley is a TV novice, but he nevertheless wrote, directed and played a part in Courage, and did an admirable enough job of creating characters an audience cares about and a narrative that will keep them curious as to how things will shake out.

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References to the country’s founding are a staple at Tea Party rallies that are attended by an estimated 9 million people, so a show about Colonial America ought to appeal to them. Leaning primarily on Tea Partiers for your audience, though, is a risky business, as the makers of Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 learned when they tapped the political movement to market their film, which opened strong but petered out quickly.

Wilson and Riley, though, are hoping they have a show that will attract history buffs of all political persuasions, much like HBO did with its Emmy-winning John Adams miniseries and Mel Gibson did with The Patriot, a feature film that earned $113 million domestically 11 years ago.

The most seasoned cast member in Courage is Basil Hoffman, who had a recurring role on Hill Street Blues and other TV shows as well as film roles in Old Dogs, Night Shift, My Favorite Year and Ordinary People. Hoffman said at a Los Angeles Tea Party rally last year: “I’m here in defense of America, of free speech, low taxes, liberty.”

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"I was surprised to learn how many Tea Partiers there are in Hollywood," Riley said. "Most won't talk about it, though."

Riley and Wilson will likely pluck the writers and directors of future Courage episodes from those ranks of Hollywood Tea Partiers, though Riley adds: "We'll hire anyone who can get the job done. We have cast members who are raging leftists."

The first episode of Courage is subtitled “The Travail of Sarah Pine” and stars Alexandra Oliver as a colonial woman who accuses a British soldier of the crime of “bastardy.” (A trailer is below).

Riley said that realism was paramount because "Hollywood tends to make over the past in its own image – 18th century women become raging feminists; statesmen become agnostics or rakes."

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Their goal of accuracy is best reflected during trial scenes that include oratory that might not past muster with your modern-day TV executive.

The prosecutor, for example, begins the trial with: “Bob Wheedle, he not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil in his own wicked heart, did willfully seduce and thereby obtain carnal knowledge of an innocent, chaste girl with promises of marriage -- and he has sired a bastard child born of her body, and now refuses its care.”

“I’d like to concentrate on some of the regular folk who made the Revolution possible,” Riley says, "mix the narrative tension of The Sopranos and the redemptive, heroic American exceptionalism of Frank Capra.”

And he figures Hollywood is probably against him, given its antagonism to Tea Partiers. He even debated the topic with Mitchell Hurwitz when the creator of Arrested Development visited his farm once.

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“The Tea Party came up and he was a little dismissive and I told him I was a part of it,” Riley said. “He thought it was all about guarding our pocket books at all costs.”

In fact, Riley said he didn’t even bother pitching the show to traditional TV outlets.

“They wouldn’t get it, or trust us. We know we’re new, and we’d like to prove ourselves on our own, without focus groups or leftist-orthodoxies telling us which stories to tell,” Riley said.

“Most TV sitcoms and dramas tend to depict conservatives and traditionalists and people of faith as halfwits. That tactic lost its edge about four decades ago and we think it’s time to turn the tables,” he said.

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