By Ernest Scheyder
WILLISTON, N.D. (Reuters) - North Dakota's oil boom gets the Hollywood soap opera treatment in ABC's "Blood & Oil," which explores the insatiable lust for money and opportunity that defined the tens of thousands who built the state into an energy giant and rival to OPEC members.
The series, which premieres on Sunday, tracks a young couple played by Chace Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse who aim to open a laundromat in burgeoning Rock Springs, a fictional oil boomtown based on real-life Williston.
After a setback and in desperate need of cash, Crawford's character engineers a land deal that gives him financial leverage over the local oil tycoon and his wife, played by Don Johnson and Amber Valletta.
"We were really interested in the modern-day version of the 1849 gold rush, in that theme of boom and bust" Josh Pate, the show's co-creator, told Reuters.
The series explores many common challenges of North Dakota's oil boom, including the lack of affordable housing, get-rich-quick deals and the rise in crime.
Crawford's character deposits a $1.1 million check at a local bank in the first episode, a step that seems unrealistic to most Americans but a common occurrence here at one time.
"They say the first million is the hardest," Crawford's character tells the bank teller, a reference to oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens.
Johnson's character was based in part on legendary wildcatter Harold Hamm, the founder of North Dakota's second-largest oil producer, Continental Resources Inc.
"I've known a lot of guys like Harold Hamm that are riverboat gamblers," said Johnson, best known for his role in the 1980s police series "Miami Vice." "I used that to help create my character, who is a master at this game."
The show further mirrors real life with mentions of the Mandan American Indian tribe and oilfield service provider Halliburton Co. Valletta's character takes a dig at a "weasely VP at Goldman" Sachs, who, fictitiously, helps ascertain the state's true oil potential.
Not everything about the series reflects real life, however.
"Blood & Oil" was not filmed in flat North Dakota, but mountainous Utah, making its promotional material the subject of ridicule throughout the oil patch, where snow-capped peaks are nowhere to be found, undermining the show's credibility with locals. Pate said the decision was taken for "creative and logistical" reasons.
Many have forecast the recent drop in oil prices as a bad omen for North Dakota, which produces about 1.4 percent of the world's oil each day, but that doesn't bother the show's creative team.
"Even the downturn happening now is fodder for future seasons," said Pate.
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Alan Crosby)