CNN Asks: "Is Hollywood Out of Touch with Middle America?"

While Jon Stewart and George Clooney have denied any disconnect between Hollywood and middle America, as reported by Tim Graham here, today’s American Morning aired a piece shortly before 8am that seems to disprove what these members of the liberal Hollywood elite were claiming. CNN entertainment reporter Brooke Anderson spoke to residents of small town Lebanon, Kansas, who expressed their view that Hollywood is not honoring or promoting the type of films that they enjoy.

Randy Maus, Lebanon resident: "Out here, at least in rural America, where it’s–you could say it’s the Bible belt, we’re still looking for movies that have creative substance and a storyline."

Unidentified Female: "We’re just not interested in all the sex and skin."

Brooke Anderson: "What kind of movies do you want Hollywood to make?"

Unidentified Female: "What about Sound of Music and some of those?"

The transcript of the 7:53am report:

Miles O’Brien: "Hollywood’s big night just a few days away which has folks across the country holding their collective breath, right? Well, maybe not. Just how much difference is there between Hollywood and the heartland? CNN’s Brooke Anderson set out to find out."

Brooke Anderson: "Far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood lies Lebanon, Kansas, population 250 people, median age 52. A place where three houses recently sold for a grand total of $11,000 on eBay. Many have asked the question, is Hollywood out of touch with middle America? What better place to find out than the middle of America? This is the geographic center of the continental United States in Lebanon, Kansas."

Randy Maus, Lebanon resident: "Out here, at least in rural America, where it’s–you could say it’s the Bible belt, we’re still looking for movies that have creative substance and a storyline."

Anderson: "Randy Maus is a Lebanon transplant from the Boston area. He, along with other Lebanon residents, including the ladies of the Methodist Church bell choir, aren’t exactly thrilled with the films the Oscars are honoring. Has anybody seen Brokeback Mountain?"

[Group of women]: "No."

Anderson: "Anybody want to see it?"

[Group of Women]: "No."

Unidentified Female #1: "We’re just not interested in all the sex and skin."

Unidentified Female #2: "It’s just not my style of life."

Anderson: "What kind of movies do you want Hollywood to make?"

Unidentified Female #2: "What about Sound of Music and some of those?"

Anderson: "We stopped by the Lebanon hotspot, Ladow’s Market, where one local told us Hollywood just can’t relate to a farming way of life."

Unidentified Male #1: "They’ve never been back in here to know what it’s like to actually have to make a living doing this."

Anderson: "The closest theater is twelve miles away in Smith Center, Kansas. One movie theater, one film shown per week, and none of the movies nominated for best picture have played here."

Mike Hughes, Center Theater: "We have a large senior citizen base, so we gear a lot of our movies toward that and our children’s pictures do real well."

Anderson: "So say you put Brokeback Mountain on the screen?"

Hughes: "I feel–I feel it would not play very well. It wouldn’t be profitable for us."

Representing the view from Hollywood: Entertainment Weekly senior writer Dave Karger:

Anderson: "Dave Karger, a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, says profits aren’t the driving force behind the Academy Awards."

Dave Karger, Entertainment Weekly: "They’re about recognizing the five best movies of the year, not the five most profitable movies of the year."

Anderson: "Here in the middle of America, in Lebanon, the Oscars are as far from their minds as they seem to be from the minds of those in Hollywood. Does anyone plan to watch the Academy Awards?"

Unidentified Male #2: "I think the Oscars are for the people in California. I don’t think anybody else really cares."

Unidentified Female #3: "Why waste your time? We’ll come to bell choir practice."

Anderson: "Brooke Anderson, CNN, Lebanon, Kansas."

In wrapping up the segment, co-host Miles O’Brien cited box office totals to further demonstrate the gap between what Academy voters declare to be the best films of the year, and what Americans actually go out to see at theatres:

O’Brien: "Well, perhaps the bell is tolling for Hollywood there. Another example of the disconnect here, follow the box office receipts. You know what they say, follow the money. The five movies nominated for best picture have grossed a combined $222 million. Compare that to the $287 million grossed by The Chronicles of Narnia, and the $216 million earned by King Kong."

The Chronicles of Narnia, shut out of the Best Picture category, picked up three Oscar nods for Achievement in Makeup, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. King Kong also scored nominations for Sound Mixing and Visual Effects, as well as nominations for Sound Editing and Art Direction.

UPDATE: At 2:54pm, CNN's Live From re-aired the Brooke Anderson piece, with Anderson reporting live from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. When Anderson reported that the residents of Lebanon, Kansas had not heard of the other Best Picture nominees, anchor Fredricka Whitfield expressed amazement, and stated that it sounds like the residents don't want to see ANY movies at all. Whitfield then gave assurance to Hollywood that "a good part" of the rest of the country will be tuning into the Oscars. [Hat tip to my MRC colleague Michelle Humphrey]

Brooke Anderson: "And in addition to Brokeback Mountain, many of the residents there told me they hadn’t heard of the other best picture nominees, Capote, Crash, Munich, Good Night and Good Luck, and they said even if they had, or if it were playing, they wouldn't be interested in seeing it. Fred, you can bet millions will be watching the Oscars this Sunday, but the viewer numbers will be few and far between from Lebanon, Kansas."

Fredricka Whitfield: "Wow. So something tells me, well, they don’t want to see any movies at all then. Even–out of all the movies that you mentioned, I mean, even though they only have the one movie theater, it doesn’t sound like there’s really anything."

Anderson: "Right. A lot of the, especially the women there told me that they see maybe one film a year at the theater and, as I said in the piece, the closest movie theater’s twelve miles away. They have no control over what films go into that theater...They are hard working people. Right. They’re hard working people in this town and a lot of them told me they just don’t have time, and they don't want to make time."

Whitfield: "Right, alright, understood. Well, a good part of the rest of America will be watching on Sunday, I have a feeling."