'Bayou Billionaires' brings gas boom to reality TV

@CNNMoney February 2, 2012: 11:01 AM ET
Louisiana family that struck it rich on natural gas drilling profiled on new reality show.

Louisiana family that struck it rich on natural gas drilling profiled on new reality show.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The fracking-led oil and natural gas boom that's received widespread attention in the mainstream press has moved to a new medium: reality TV.

"Bayou Billionaires," a new reality show on Country Music Television, follows the lives of the Dowdens, a Louisiana family that's struck it rich off natural gas.

"I bought me a new pickup" says Gerald Dowden in the trailer posted on CMT's website. "And I bought a dually," says his wife Kitten, referring to a pickup with four tires on the rear axle. "I got the special edition Polaris," says Gerald, clearly excited about his all-terrain vehicle. "She put the pool in."

"We got a new hot tub," says Kitten. "Jet skis," says Gerald.

"I have 50 hounds" and one horse, he adds. "But my wife has nine. We're spending it, that's what it's for."

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Billionaires may be stretching it, but the Dowdens sure have come into some serious cash.

Thanks to new drilling technology, a small Texas firm called Exco (EXCO) was able to put four new natural gas wells on the Dowden's 80 acres of land outside Shreveport, La. in the last three years.

Each month, the wells generate a royalty check for the Dowdens that can be as high as $40,000. The wells are expected to produce for 16 to 20 years. And their royalty checks could grow considerably.

Exco, has plans to add up to 16 wells on the Dowden's land over the next few years, Gerald says in an interview with CNNMoney.

Their royalties are also pegged to the price of natural gas, which is currently at a decade-long low. But if natural gas returns to the the highs it hit in 2008 and the other wells are drilled, the Dowdens could potentially see a check for nearly a million dollars a month.

"We're going to make a lot of money," says Gerald.

Not that the family was poor before. The Dowdens previously had four smaller natural gas wells on their land, which used to generate royalty checks of between $3,000 and $5,000 a month. Plus, they own a small construction business that employs around 20 people.

Striking it rich hasn't seemed to change their work pattern that much -- Kitten is still the bookkeeper at the construction company, and Gerald says he's yet to officially retire.

But in addition to their new toys the couple has carved out time for three cruises over the past year, one to the Persian Gulf.

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for short, fear the process of injecting pressurized water and chemicals into the ground to ease the extraction process is contaminating the water. Others with gas wells on their property have regretted the decision, saying the compressors are loud and the wells produce nauseating fumes.

But the Dowdens say they aren't worried. And they say noise or fumes aren't a problem either.

"They're a community-oriented company," said Gerald. "They're really safe."

The reality show, which was filmed over an eight-week period last year, profiles the adventures of not just Gerald and Kitten but their extended family.

Gerald says neither their new wealth nor having a television crew on their land has strained relations with their neighbors, who are out of eyesight anyway.

"They're excited, they all want to be in it," says Kitten.

Despite claims by the show's producer and the Dowden family that the program doesn't aim to celebrate or exploit redneck stereotypes, clips on CMT's website leave some room for doubt.

"I love my new teeth," says the couple's daughter Chantal in the episode trailer, which is also filled with lots of ATV riding and yee-haws partially set to a steel guitar soundtrack.

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"She really needed 'em," responds Chantel's boyfriend in the trailer, which gives his name as Carl, Albert or Jimmy, "depending on what part of the country," he's in, and where Gerald affectionately calls him the "burnout biker."

Still, show producer Brian Flanagan says the aim was to simply profile a tight- knit family that's come into some money.

"I wasn't trying to make a redneck show, I was trying to make a sweet show," says Flanagan, who got the idea from an employee who has family in the area and saw first hand how normal people were getting rich off the energy boom.

Flanagan, whose company is behind other reality shows including the Discovery channel's "Moonshires" and TLC's "Long Island Medium," says the Dowdens fit the part perfectly.

"They love their property, they love each other, and they are having a blast together thanks to their newfound fortune," he says.

He notes the show is devoid of some of the more unsavory aspects on reality television.

"I don't need anyone flipping a table over on this show," he says. "It's a show for the whole family, not a train wreck."

Bayou Billionaires' third episode airs Saturday at 9 PM on Viacom's (VIAB, Fortune 500) CMT. To top of page

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