'Hart of Dixie': Scott Porter and Jaime King discuss the ode to the deep South
Perhaps that's why "Hart of Dixie" is one of our favorite pilots this season. You've probably already heard the "Everwood" comparison, and there's certainly a "Gilmore Girls"-ian quality to the town setting as well.
The Monday night dramedy about a big-city doctor ( Rachel Bilson) who is forced to join a practice in Bluebell, Alabama -- a town that's as small as it sounds -- has the same impact as one good glass of wine. By the end of the hour, we were melted into the couch with a goofy smile on our face. We weren't wondering if someone was going to be murdered by a hybrid vampire or if the demon hunter would become the demon-hunted. And it felt good.
Of course, not everyone loved the pilot. At the Television Critics Association press tour, the series stars and producers were bombarded with questions from critics about the fictional town of Bluebell and how it would stand to represent the South as a whole. Would they explore issues of inherent Southern racism? Were they implying that everyone below the Mason-Dixon Line is an ignorant bumpkin? Does the writing mock Southern tradition?
After the (at times uncomfortable) panel ended, we sat down at the Beverly Hilton with stars Scott Porter and Jaime King to discuss the series' portrayal of the South. Porter, out of his "Friday Night Lights" wheelchair and his "Good Wife" suit, plays a hometown boy-turned-lawyer who ventured to New York, but returned to Bluebell. He's now planning to marry Lemon (King), his childhood sweetheart who personifies a true Southern belle.
Though both actors hail from Nebraska, they feel a connection and a responsibility to the South.
"I can understand why people have those concerns, because often Hollywood takes things that are from the South or from the Midwest and they roll it into the dirt," King says. "For me, being from Nebraska, from a small town, it's totally the way that I grew up. I'm not going to make fun of the way that I was raised. I was bullied my whole life. I don't mock people, and I wouldn't be doing this show unless it truly honored something."
"There was a lady in the panel today who said there's a narrowmindedness in the South," Porter says. "No, there's not a narrowmindedness in the South any more than there's a narrowmindedness here. They have different traditions. You don't think you deal with racism out here in Los Angeles or in New York? You don't think that there's race barriers? To attack the South like that - we're going to do everything in our power to see that people understand the good in the South."
Bilson's character, Dr. Zoe Hart, certainly turns her nose up at the town when she first arrives. It's about as traditional as a place gets. She and Lemon first meet while Lemon and her fellow belles are in full Civil War-era garb in the town square, keeping tradition alive. "Someone needs to tell the people of this town that it's 2011," says the doc. "Dancing in celebration of the confederacy?"
Despite the fact that her dress matches her name, Lemon is not, as King puts it, "some sketch-comedy caricature." She's deeply committed to the town's history and the role into which she was raised.
"There's a great speech she has in the second episode where she says, pretty bluntly, to Zoe - 'Why do you make fun of us? Why do you say things like 'Notify your town cryer'? Why do you laugh at the things we eat? Why do you mock our traditions? Is it because you think you're better than us?'," Porter says of Lemon. "It's a very real place to be coming from and I think Lemon is going to win that argument."
People who identify with the show's Southern pride -- or who simply relate to the small-town sweetness -- don't need to worry about history or customs being mocked by this show.
"There's so much reverence," King says, her eyes lighting up as she leans in close across the table. "Half of our writing staff is from the South. The things I get to say! 'Oh, I just had to bring this girl a covered dish!' You don't hear that in Manhattan, but it's really true to the South. It seems so silly to someone in the city, but that's what you do in the South. You're a neighbor." She grins. "You can tell those Southern viewers I am the true champion. I am bringing the Southern lady true depth and strength and range and humor."
The humor is key. The show does touch on racial boundaries and deep South stereotypes, but at its heart, it's a feel-good comedy. You can watch it with your mom without feeling weird, and you can swoon over hot guys and girls with perfect hair. The word "charming" has been tossed around a lot in relation to this show, but it's true. The show flirts with its viewers, flatters them and welcomes them in.
"We want people to smile and laugh and love the South," Porter says. "'Friday Night Lights' was great for the South as well, but we dealt with a lot of serious issues that we're not going to delve into on 'Hart of Dixie.' We're making a very charming town with very charming people."
And charmed we are.