MTV reality show puts Burleson on national stage, but some call its depiction inaccurate

BURLESON -- This Johnson County city may seem an unlikely backdrop for an MTV teenage reality show.

Some residents wish it wasn't a show at all.

Phrases such as a "horribly close-minded abyss of lameness" and "white-bread town" are not what some residents would use to describe Burleson, which straddles Interstate 35W south of Fort Worth.

The new show My Life as Liz was filmed last school year as MTV followed senior Liz Lee and other Burleson High School students. Lee said the show is meant to be a lighthearted comedy about her life "as she sees it."

It began airing last month on the cable network, which pushes pop culture.

Reviews have been mixed, to say the least.

"It just makes me so mad," junior Selah Medlin said. "It makes it look like we're all hicks and cowboys at the school, and we're not."

A Facebook group called "Burleson, Texas is nothing like what is on My Life as Liz" was started by some Burleson High students and now has hundreds of members.

Sophomore Emma Easter, 16, said the show makes her smile, though it's really not an accurate reflection of her school.

"It's beastly awesome," she said. "It portrays us a lot worse than we are ... but you really have to watch it to see what happens."

School officials, who declined to comment, were skeptical about allowing their students to be filmed for the show. In a May 2008 Star-Telegram article, then-Principal Paul Cash told students that he had reservations about the show but that he gave it the OK after a conference call with MTV officials.

"MTV seems to be very student-friendly and willing to work collaboratively with local administrators," Cash said. "I was convinced that this partnership could be beneficial to our students."

Controversial depiction

In the first episode, Lee introduces Burleson as having rodeos, barbecues and "more churches than cows."

"Everyone in this town looks, acts and thinks the same, and they don't take too kindly to anyone that isn't a blond Texas Barbie doll," she says on the show.

Burleson Mayor Kenneth Shetter takes offense to most of Lee's descriptions. Shetter has only seen a few clips and descriptions online but is so far unimpressed and frustrated.

"Never in my life would I have said that about our community," he said. "It wasn't true 20 years ago when I was in school, and it certainly isn't true today. ... The show is terribly unfair and irresponsible."

Shetter said his town of about 34,000 is a diverse, growing community with generous people.

Lee said she's gotten positive and negative reactions. The teen, who now attends college in Brooklyn, N.Y., said the show should be considered in the lighthearted way it was intended.

"It is my opinion, and it's not to say I don't love Burleson, because I do," Lee said. "It's my hometown. But like a lot of teens, you have big dreams, and you just want to get out."

'Entertaining but not real'

The premise of the show is how Lee went from a bubbly, Texas blonde to an artsy, comic-reading youth with angst and a unique fashion sense, courtesy of McCart Thrift Center. The episodes center around typical high school situations -- nursing a schoolgirl crush, trying out for the talent show and confronting a nemesis.

Some Burleson youths admit that it's hard not to watch a show based in their hometown, as they try to spot their friends, favorite town hangouts or even themselves.

They are also quick to comment in blogs on misleading sequences, such as a Valentine's Day-related scene they say was shot in May and scenes shot in Fort Worth or elsewhere but are implied to be in Burleson.

"It's really entertaining, but it's not real," said Heather Zumwalt, who graduated from Burleson High School a year before the filming. "It's just funny the way it is all put together, kind of like the high school version of The Office."

The teens on the show, however, insist that it is real. Taylor Terry, who is now a senior at Burleson High, said the show focuses on the teens -- not the school or the town.

"We're just trying to portray ourselves," she said.

Terry said she doesn't think the show has had any lasting effect on the campus. "It's completely the same. It's Burleson High School."

Crews filmed at the school, around town and at school-related events throughout last year.

And while the show is definitely a talker among the town's teens, grown-ups don't seem to be spending much time on it.

A brief survey of adults during a recent afternoon in Burleson did not yield one who had seen the show. Most had not heard of it.

Resident Jerry Henderson, 49, didn't like what he learned once he did. Henderson is protective of his town's image since moving there in 1960, when Texas 174 was a dirt road lined with hay fields. Today the busy road is crowded with commercial development, retail stores and, yes, even a Starbucks.

"It's a little Arlington," he said. "It's progressing and growing so fast."

Bryson Gilreath, 19, a potential love interest of Lee's on the show, said he was glad that the show highlighted aspects of Burleson such as the Old Town historic district.

"The small-town things we have are what make Burleson so great," he said. "We have cool stuff downtown."