Top Chef Texas scandal: producers asked cities to pay cash, Texas paid

Last week, Bravo announced that Top Chef‘s ninth season was filmed in Texas, but that press release and subsequent press accounts didn’t mention what several Texas publications have been reporting on ever since word leaked about a confrontation that confirmed the show was filming in the state: The show asked cities and the state to pay to be included in the show, and hosting the show may have cost taxpayers $400,000.

The office of Texas governor Rick Perry, who declared he is running for the Republican presidential nomination on Saturday, agreed to pay what an advertising agency estimated to be $400,000 “for the integration of [the state’s] brand in Bravo’s production of Top Chef cycle 9.” They agreed to pay that on June 29, and that was revealed by a fascinating story by the Dallas Observer, which used open records laws to find e.mail messages between the media and Governor Rick Perry’s office. (Perry’s web site calls him “a staunch fiscal and social conservative” who “set a conservative, fiscally responsible course” and “is the only governor since World War II to reduce state general revenue spending.”)

That dollar amount was specified “in an estimate drawn up by TM Advertising, a Dallas-based firm that helps the governor’s tourism and economic development office promote the state” that the state agreed to on June 29, the paper reported, noting that it was just an estimate, and the actual amount could be less. Unsurprisingly, no one at Bravo or Magical Elves would comment, and in fact, the Texas Attorney General refused a request for correspondence saying it “may implicate the privacy or proprietary interests of a third party, Magical Elves.”

The producers didn’t just ask the state to pay, they asked individual cities to pay. Eater first reported that “the Houston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) was approached by TM Advertising to begin negotiations for a chance to underwrite a possible Houston episode.”

Eater later reported that Austin did not pay, and The Dallas Observer’s follow-up story said that Dallas didn’t, either. But while the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Dallas Film Commission said no to cash payments, the commission’s director, Janis Burklund, told the paper, “That’s pretty much how Top Chef works.” When the show asked for money a few years ago, she said, “the money they wanted was so crazy.” And, she said, producers “still wanted a lot on top of everything free. It was really more than we can do.” This summer, the film commission did offer some kind of assistance, but not cash.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.