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Lifestyle

July 31, 2011

YouTube sensation gets A&E pilot

WEST POINT — While catching phone calls in a converted doublewide trailer office at Cullman Liquidation Center late Wednesday morning, Nancy Macon doesn’t seem like your typical reality TV star.

But, occasionally finding a Hollywood celebrity on the other end of the line can serve as a quick reminder.

“Howie Mandel called, and I nearly hung up because I didn’t believe him,” she said with a laugh. “He told me to look at the caller ID, and it said NBC Broadcasting. I was like, ‘Oh, crap.’ I told him I was sorry, because it was a bit of a shocker.”

Over the past 11 years, Macon has worn every hat from decorator to secretary at the local mobile home lot — and she will soon be adding series regular on the A&E cable series “Flipping Dixie” to her job description.

The Cullman Liquidation Center became a hot media commodity in late 2009, when a mock commercial featuring deadpan owner Robert Lee discussing everything from stained floors to a crescent wrench attack became a YouTube hit. To date, the 80-second clip has generated more than 2.6 million views.

In the two years since the commercial went live, creators Rhett and Link have since inked their own TV series deal (”Rhett and Link: Commercial Kings,” on cable network IFC).

That buzz eventually filtered down and caught the attention of comedian Mandel, who sent his development firm Alevy Productions to Cullman in early 2011 to shoot a pilot for a reality TV series featuring Lee and his staff.

Per A&E, the pilot is described as a “house flipping show like we have never seen before,” with Lee finding “diamond-in-the-rough” mobile homes and reselling them. The backdoor pilot for “Flipping Dixie” is slated to air at 11 a.m. on August 13 on A&E.

“It was during the big snow storm, and they came in and followed Robert while he went to look at a repo,” Macon said. “Evidently it’s supposed to be funny, but we’re a little worried, because we haven’t seen the pilot yet.”

Lee said the film crew attached to his hip was a hassle, but he did have some fun when he led the cameraman into the wrong home on a repossession run.

“We broke into the wrong house with them, in a ... neighborhood in Birmingham,” he said. “I took out my screwdriver and the camera guy asked me what that is, and I told him it was the Alabama master key. Pry the door open and we go in there and we’re filming through the house, and I see an axe laying here and a knife. I come out and some crackhead says ‘That’s my mama’s house,’ ... the house you’re looking for is over there.”

Though she may have only been a bit player in the YouTube commercial, Macon said she’s been told the pilot focuses more on the back-and-forth dynamic between Lee and herself.

“It started out as an hour, but now it’ll be a half-hour show,” she said. “They told me that once they trimmed it down, it focuses on me and Robert a little more, then some of the others. It’s not really about mobile homes, but Robert as a character. He cares, but he don’t care. He is very unique.”

Macon said the one week shoot gave her a whole new perspective on just how much work actually goes into so-called “reality TV.”

“I guess it is reality, but it kind of isn’t, because they give you direction on everything you do,” she said. “They set it up, then you go through and do what you do. Then, you go out and come back in and do it again, then again. I finally asked them if I was that bad at acting like myself, but they said it’s just to get different angles to edit it together.”

Flying through the door of his office early Wednesday afternoon, it’s easy to see the frantic energy Lee possesses that producers find so appealing. While opening Happy Meal toys for two of his children, he recounts the story of how he lost feeling in one side of his face (It wasn’t the crescent wrench, but a botched jaw surgery).

His opinion of the shoot was a bit more blunt: “It was aggravating as hell,” he said.

Though it took some getting used to over the first few days, Macon said by the end of the shoot she would sometimes forget she was even wearing a microphone — which did lead to a few awkward exchanges.

“I’d yell at [the sound engineer] to turn my microphone off before I went to the bathroom, because that was my quiet time,” she said. “You have a tendency to forget that you have it on, and there was this one guy always wandering around, who was wired in and could hear everything.”

Cautious excitement about her own 15 minutes of fame not withstanding, Macon said she still has mixed feelings about how things could change if the series is picked up for additional episodes.

“I honestly don’t know what I would think if it got a series,” she said. “I know they said if they do it, they’ll come out for five or six weeks and shoot, and that’d be a little easier, because you’re not trying to cram it all in. It’s really hard to say, because we don’t know how it would be.”

Even if “Flipping Dixie” doesn’t catch on, Macon said the Cullman Liquidation team may still have a few other cards left to play. Production companies ranging from the creators of “Deadliest Catch” to “The Real World” have all reached out and expressed interest in doing reality shows based around Lee.

“To this day we still get calls from producers, wanting to know how things are going and what we’re doing,” Macon said. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.

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