WILLISTON, N.D. (Reuters) - North Dakotans, so annoyed that ABC’s oilfield soap opera “Blood & Oil” features sweeping vistas of mountains that don’t exist in their state, made a drinking game out of the geological farce during the show’s Sunday night premier.
See the dusty peaks of the Rocky Mountains towering over pipelines? Take a drink.
The Rockies are 900 miles away from Williston, epicenter of North Dakota’s oil industry and a city that inspired the “Blood & Oil” producers to craft a television show centered on a modern-day version of a gold rush.
All of the show’s minor errors about life in the second-largest U.S. oil producing state could be forgiven, locals said, if “Blood & Oil” would only do something about those mountains, a jarring misrepresentation of a state where the highest point is less than a mile above sea level.
Despite referencing North Dakota at every turn, the show was filmed in Utah for “creative and logistical” reasons, Josh Pate, the show’s co-creator, told Reuters.
At least “Dallas,” the 1970s hit show that first brought the money and power of the oil business into America’s living rooms, was shot where it was set: Texas.
“We looked into filming in North Dakota, but there are more resources in Utah,” said Pate.
High-altitude Utah offers a 25 percent tax rebate for film crews; flat and windy North Dakota, meanwhile, offers nothing.
“I wish they would have filmed it here to bring some additional economic development,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, an industry trade group for oil companies like Continental Resources Inc, the inspiration for Briggs Oil, the fictitious company run by star Don Johnson’s character.
Yet despite drawing heavily on the experiences of North Dakota’s oil boom, ABC did very little to market the show to the very people upon which it is based.
While New York City buses and subway billboards have been plastered for weeks with the faces of Johnson and co-star Chase Crawford, Williston’s billboards hawk pizza, workers compensation attorneys and Chinese food, not the major prime-time television drama.
Not that the lack of marketing mattered: “Blood & Oil” had to compete with the Denver Broncos-Detroit Lions football game during its Sunday night timeslot, presenting stiff competition.
Williston’s Buffalo Wild Wings location, the city’s largest bar, opted for NFL football, showing the Denver Broncos’ 24-12 win over the Detroit Lions.
An informal survey of 40 Williston residents, including the city’s chamber of commerce president, several city commissioners and even a few oilfield executives, showed that more than three-quarters didn’t even watch the premier.
Still, more than 6.3 million Americans did, according to preliminary estimates from Nielsen, including Williston Mayor Howard Klug.
“It’s good entertainment, that’s all I’ll say,” said Klug. “Obviously, the show’s creators haven’t been to Williston.”
What the show’s creators have done, though, is mixed oil patch tensions with Hollywood panache.
Crawford’s character makes a curt reference to flaring - the wasteful burning of natural gas - within the show’s first 30 seconds, serendipitous timing as the state last week gave oil companies an extension to curb the practice.
Crawford’s character and his wife, played by Rebecca Rittenhouse, find a studio apartment for a whopping $2,000 per month, an occurrence still quite common here.
Rittenhouse’s character gets a job as a pharmacist despite dropping out of pharmacy school after only two years, joking that’s all the experience she needs to work in the oil patch. But pharmacists must complete their education and be licensed to practice in North Dakota.
In the premiere’s final scene, Johnson’s character wrestles with an assailant in thick, black crude oil leaking from a nearby storage tank. In reality, North Dakota oil is a light amber color akin to thickened apple juice.
“I like the show so far, but I‘m just anticipating that my family back in California is going to ask, ‘Is this really what North Dakota is like?” said Tyana Grayson, a Williston real estate manager.
Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Steven R. Trousdale and Alan Crosby