Iowa city to pay thousands to be a ‘community of distinction’

By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog

DES MOINES, Iowa — Lots of cities would like to be described on television by a celebrity as a “community of distinction.”

Fewer cities would be willing to make that happen by paying thousands to appear on a very low-rated infomercial produced by a company whose CEO had previous been accused of fraud.

Wapello is one of those cities.

The small eastern Iowa city (pop. 2,044) has agreed to pay $19,800 to the production company behind the infomercial “Communities of Distinction.” In return, the city is promised five minutes of low-wattage basic cable glory.

“Communities of Distinction” is an hour-long infomercial series hosted by sportscaster and former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

Episodes feature a brief, generic introduction by Bradshaw in a studio. The 1970’s football great then awkwardly provides the narration for five-minute video presentations on various communities.

The one distinction all these communities have in common is they paid at least $19,800 to U.S. Media Television of Coral Gables, Fla., to appear on the program.

No other distinction is going to earn a city Bradshaw’s awkward narration.

COMMUNITY OF DISTINCTION? Wapello will pay thousands to appear in an infomercial produced by a company whose CEO was accused of fraud in the past.

“We feel this is a unique opportunity to showcase our town and surrounding areas to show what we have to offer and how great of an area we have to live and raise a family,” Wapello Mayor Shawn Maine explained in a letter to the Louisa County Board of Supervisors.

The letter was an attempt by Maine to get the county to pay part of the $19,800 fee. Since the Wapello City Council approved the deal with U.S. Media Television earlier this month, the mayor has been trying to get others to pick up part of the cost.

At its Tuesday meeting the Board of Supervisors voted to endorse Wapello appearing on “Communities of Distinction,” but didn’t vote to provide any money for the city.

In exchange for its money, Wapello has been guaranteed the infomercial featuring its segment will appear 20 times on cable TV. It will appear once on a national cable network, as well as on what the company calls “regional networks.”

There is no guarantee regarding what time of day the program will appear or that there will be any promotion to attempt to attract viewers.

Maine was originally contacted by producers from “Communities of Distinction” in August. Producers said they wanted to feature Wapello on their program in exchange for a $19,800 “scheduling fee.”

Maine told the city council that talking with producers and studying the U.S. Media Television website convinced him this would be a good deal for the city.

A little further research might have led Maine to a different conclusion.

Paul Douglas Scott is the president and CEO of U.S. Media Television. It’s at least the third infomercial-producing company Scott has run, and the previous two were accused of fraud and deceptive business practices.

As part of a settlement with the Florida Attorney General in 2007, Scott’s Platinum Television Group agreed to stop engaging in certain business practice the attorney determined were deceptive.

Platinum was producing an infomercial profiling businesses willing to pay a fee to appear on its program.

According to the attorney general, Platinum misrepresented itself to the companies it solicited, claiming ties to major businesses and academic institutions that Platinum didn’t have.

Platinum also couldn’t prove it had aired its infomercials as often as it claimed. As part of the settlement, Platinum agreed to set up a restitution fund to reimburse companies it couldn’t prove had appeared on television as often as their contract with Platinum required.

Scott filed the incorporation papers for U.S. Media Television shortly after the settlement with the attorney general.

According to the Florida Secretary of State’s database of businesses, Scott still runs Platinum, which shares the same address with U.S. Media Television.

In 2009, Scott and an infomercial-producing company he owned, Encore TV, were sued by sportscaster Greg Gumbel.

Gumbel served the same function for Encore TV that Terry Bradshaw does for “Communities of Distinction.” He provided generic introduction segments and then narrated the various segments that profiled businesses that had paid to be part of the program.

In his lawsuit, Gumbel claimed Scott had deceived him, telling Gumbel the segments were for programs that would only appear on nonprofit educational channels. Gumbel said he had no idea his work was actually for pay-for-play infomercials.

Scott and Encore settled the lawsuit with Gumbel. Terms of the settlement were not made public.

Iowa Watchdog contacted U.S. Media Television to ask questions about its business practices and how it chose Wapello. Questions and a request for an interview left on Senior Vice President for Production Lisa Vrancken‘s voicemail have received no response.

Iowa Watchdog also attempted to contact Maine to learn if he was aware of Scott’s background, but messages left for the mayor at both city hall and his business haven’t been returned.

Learning about Scott’s background has led some cities to reject offers from “Communities of Distinction.”

Other cities have passed because they were unimpressed with the work done by U.S. Media Television or because they doubted the infomercial would do anything to raise the city’s profile.

Red Oak, Iowa, however, was satisfied with its 2013 appearance on “Communities of Distinction.”

City administrator Brad Wright told Iowa Watchdog that Red Oak officials were pleased with the video U.S. Media Television produced.

Asked what sort of feedback the city had received from its appearance, Wright said, “The short answer is that we have not got any feedback. We have not heard anything from it being viewed around the country.”

Even if Wapello’s appearance on “Communities of Distinction” produces the same lack of response that Red Oak’s did, Wapello is still getting a better deal.

Instead of the typical $19,800, U.S. Media Television charged Red Oak $24,800.

Asked about the $5,000 price differential, Wright would only say, “I am aware of it.”

Contact Paul Brennan at pbrennan@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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