Porter Ridge’s Terry Porter and Jeff Watson say they’re happy in the rolling hollows of Southern Indiana, but the money’s no good.
Terry Porter owns a junkyard on Porter Ridge Road, a winding route about 15 miles west of Bloomington, Indiana. Jeff Watson lives next door, with eight brown bears he owns and trains. Country Auto Parts rarely turns a profit, according to Terry Porter, who’s usually bare-chested before, during and after office hours. Far removed from Hollywood, Jeff Watson doesn’t find much TV or movie work for his animals.
“Jeff basically told me, <<My business is dying>>,” Terry Porter said.
“I said, <<Mine is the same way>>. ”
Jeff Watson dreamed up new hope for the duo, plus quite a few friends in rural Owen County, by pitching a reality series to the makers of cable-TV sensation Duck Dynasty.
The bear man’s entertainment resume includes acting in the 2008 independent film Grizzly Park and assisting with animal appearances on The Tonight Show and Good Morning America.
Discovery’s new series Porter Ridge, starring Terry Porter and Jeff Watson, represents a serious financial lifeline for its cast.
Otherwise, Terry Porter wouldn’t be sharing with America his tanned upper torso and hard-to-follow dialect.
“I don’t want to be famous, don’t want to be a dadgum movie star,” Terry Porter said of his initial reluctance to be part of the show.
“But you gotta do what you gotta do type of thing.”
In contrast to Duck Dynasty, the A&E’s reality hit centered on the owners of lucrative hunting supply company Duck Commander, Porter Ridge isn’t based on wealth, accomplishment or celebrity.
Porter Ridge is a self-made sideshow featuring shirtless Terry Porter, bear whisperer Jeff Watson and a band of bearded outsiders. They’re modern-day “Beverly Hillbillies” who never relocated to L.A.
Among the true-life characters who congregate at Country Auto Parts is “Dirty” Andy Minnick, who makes ends meet by selling scrap metal from old lawn mowers, rusty trampolines and other items.
Like Jeff Watson, Andy Minnick worked at the General Electric refrigerator plant in Bloomington before being laid off.
Andy Minnick refers to himself as a “hilljack” and doesn’t view the term as an insult.
“We’re representing ourselves,” he said.
“We’re not representing the community, as such. I hope [viewers] realize that you don’t have to do a 9 to 5 every day to make a living. There’s other ways around it.”
Porter Ridge cast members don’t talk about their compensation for doing the show. Terry Porter said the series hasn’t significantly changed his finances, but he’s looking forward to the exposure Country Auto Parts will receive.
“I spend $8,000 a year advertising,” he said.
“If I can get free advertising – and lunch – you know what I’m saying?”
Reality shows that become hits deliver far more than complimentary catering for cast members.
Members of Duck Dynasty’s Robertson family reportedly sought $200,000 per episode after the series ranked as cable television’s No. 1 “nonfiction” program for 2012, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Of all the attention surrounding Porter Ridge, Terry Porter said he’s most flustered by an online business directory, ChamberOfCommerce.com, that lists Country Auto Parts as doing more than $2 million in sales volume per year.
“I would really like to know where that banking account is,” Terry Porter said.
“Because I wouldn’t have any clue.”
Terry Porter said Country Auto Parts did about $80,000 in sales in 2012, enough for him to pay two full-time employees and keep up with house payments.
As Jeff Watson recognized when hatching the idea for Porter Ridge, his entrepreneur friend is a “show in and of himself”.
Prone to making bold statements greeted by vacant stares, Terry Porter is a malapropism artist in the tradition of baseball great Yogi Berra.
“If nobody’s there, we have quite a few people,” Terry Porter said of car races at his private dirt track.
Not everyone on Porter Ridge Road embraced the production crew that made two episodes of the show last fall and another 10 episodes this spring.
“I have a neighbor across the street, and he says if you bring a camera over there you’ll be wearing it home,” Jeff Watson said.
“He’d be a great addition to the cast, but he doesn’t want to be on camera.”
Andy Minnick rejected any suggestion that situations depicted on Porter Ridge are scripted.
“Jeff has bears in his backyard,” he said.
“Terry has a figure-eight racetrack in his backyard. This is a real junkyard.”
For brains and looks, Porter Ridge boasts Kayla Wood, the part-time office manager at Country Auto Parts. The Indiana University senior (majoring in health administration) is framed as the cast’s attractive tomboy.
Kayla Wood grew up on Porter Ridge Road, where she drove ATVs and fished.
She said IU’s Bloomington campus isn’t far away in miles, but quite a distance in lifestyles.
“When you talk about what [students] did growing up versus what I did growing up, it’s completely opposite,” Kayla Wood said.
“Especially people who aren’t from Indiana.”
Porter Ridge may not dispel negative stereotypes associated with Southern Indiana, particularly ones related to education, broken-down vehicles and questionable fashion decisions. But Discovery Channel executive producer Joe Weinstock said Porter Ridge isn’t designed to make Hoosiers look bad.
“When people see the show, I believe they’re going to come away feeling pretty darn good,” Joe Weinstock said.
“It has a lot of heart. In the end, these neighbors who all unite and live on Porter Ridge Road love each other.”
Jeff Watson said Porter Ridge can be a positive for its cast.
“I hope [the show] translates into better times for people,” Jeff Watson said.
“The economy is tough. I hope this junkyard takes off; I hope it really helps Terry out. Nobody here is going to be a star, and nobody is going to consider themselves a star from this.”