By Lisa Respers France
(CNN) — Critics may have been divided over the MTV reality show “Buckwild” when it premiered last year, but fans weren’t.
According to the site TV By The Numbers, it ranked as the top-rated original cable series on Thursday nights among viewers 12 to 34, and pulled in an average of 3 million total viewers per episode since its premiere in January.
So reports of the death of 21-year-old cast member Shain Gandee on Monday hit fans hard.
“I still cannot get over the fact that Shain Gandee died he was my favorite,” tweeted one fan named Buffy Sue. “Rest In Peace. #Buckwild”
The series, which follows a group of young people as they have fun in Sissonville, West Virginia, was controversial before it even aired.
Many believed the show would fill the void of the wildly successful “Jersey Shore,” which featured plenty of drunken shenanigans, hookups and fights. Before “Buckwild” premiered, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, sent MTV a letter calling it a “travesty.”
“This show plays to ugly, inaccurate stereotypes about the people of West Virginia,” he wrote.
John Stevens, the executive producer of the show, countered that the series was actually unlike any others on television, as the “Buckwild” bunch’s idea of a good time was more hanging out in the woods than on Twitter or Facebook.
“[I]t’s not like looking at a train wreck. … There is a certain coolness to it,” Stevens told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s different than a lot of the stuff that has been produced. I think it’s going to get people talking and it might change people’s perspectives. These kids are totally wild and carefree. It will be very refreshing to the MTV audience.”
In reviewing the show, The Hollywood Reporter said it “follows a slew of wild, drunken West Virginians in their late teens and early 20s.”
“Not only is it another tired portrayal of Southern stereotypes, but it’s also inexcusably poorly executed,” the review said. “The six girls and three boys (trouble is sure to brew with those odds) stumble through and stiffly carry out their force-fed cues.”
Hollywood.com was a bit more forgiving.
“Sure, watching them might be amusing fun (I can’t wait to see that insane lady in the red wig yell at them) but it’s never going to be as good as ‘Jersey Shore,’ no matter how wild it purports to be,” the website said.
Despite the lackluster reviews, MTV recently renewed the show for a second season.
On “Buckwild,” Gandee was shown as a charming Southern guy who early on competed with fellow castmate Tyler for the affections of Cara. Gandee noted that he lived in a community surrounded by relatives (“They call it a holler ’cause when you holler, everybody can hear ya”) and in a sneak peek of the show, his mother, Loretta, is shown expressing how much her son loved his job hauling trash.
The nine cast members were shown partying, camping and “mudding,” where participants spin a vehicle in the mud until everyone inside is covered.
Mud played a role in Gandee’s death.
His body was found, along with his uncle, David Dwight Gandee, 48, and Donald Robert Myers, 27, inside the family’s Ford Bronco. Authorities said the vehicle was partially submerged in mud, including the muffler.
On Tuesday, an MTV representative told CNN that production on the series had been suspended.
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