Editor's note: A story on "Small Town Security" is in the August-September issue of Catoosa Life Magazine.
Local resident Joan Koplan has been called the "Roseanne of Ringgold," referring to Roseanne Barr, the bawdy-mouthed, sitcom queen of the nineties. Many claim Koplan is "crazy" and "freakish" and "quirky," while others insist she's the "funniest thing that's come down the pike."
But one thing seems to ring true: Koplan and her staff at JJK Security & Investigations in Ringgold have been enjoying the ride since their reality TV show, "Small Town Security," hit the AMC airwaves July 15.
"Small Town Security" airs on AMC on Sundays at 11 p.m.
"It's a dream come true," Koplan said in a recent interview. "AMC is treating us like A-list stars. We're getting calls and emails from all over the place from people telling us they love the show."
"Small Town Security," labeled by AMC producers as a reality TV "docudrama," is a 30-minute glimpse into the colorful lives of the staff of JJK Security, a small security business.
For more than a year, camera crews attached themselves to the daily drama of the business, including office banter, paper serving, business guarding, patrolling and investigating. AMC produced eight episodes for the first season, opening with a pilot July 15, which introduced the members and revealed a shocking secret about JJK’s operations manager, Lt. Dennis Croft.
Croft joined the staff at JJK as Denise Croft, a woman. In February, 2010, she made an official "life change" and became Dennis Croft, a man.
The second episode offers more specific details about Croft's transgender lifestyle. Other topics on the second episode include attempts by Irwin Koplan, Joan’s husband and market manager for JJK, to scout new clients and his experience with trying to boost energy with a new testosterone cream.
Koplan, better known as "Chief" by her devoted security crew, said the reviews have been "pretty much fantastic everywhere in the world but Ringgold." She said she had a brief visit with a very sweet local couple who actually came to the door and asked to meet her, but for the most part, the reception has been relatively cold around home.
"I don't know why people think it's about Ringgold or a reflection on Ringgold," Koplan said. "I think it's nice that they show Ringgold in the background. It's a nice place where people would like to live. It's more or less glamorizing Ringgold and shows how pretty it is. I think it's helping Ringgold, but I've always been an outcast here. I'm from New York. People don't understand me."
Croft said although Chief is the one who struggles the most with his identity, she is actually the catalyst and the inspiration that gave him the strength to take that step and make the change. He also said there had been very little reaction from customers since the first episode regarding his “revealing,” but he had received many emails and calls applauding him for his boldness.
" I understood that it was going to be a major factor of the show and I understand what comes along with it," Croft said. "I was willing to accept that responsibiltiy. As for me personally, I don't care if everybody knows, but at the same time, I'm not necessarily wanting to flaunt it and show it off. It's just part of me and since the show is about us, you're going to get everything about me. It just comes with it. People have said, 'I admire you,' 'You're a hero.' And I appreciate that, but if I respond, I'm telling them, 'Stand up for yourself. Don't rely on me. You're the one that has to do it for yourself. If you make it a life's decision, that's your decision, and you have to live that life with the consequences, bad or good. You can't do it half-way.'"
Koplan said despite the negativity, she's thrilled with the rave reivews elsewhere and her dream is coming true. The cast was treated by AMC recently to a party in Beverly Hills, Calif., where they ate at the prestigious BOA restaurant and rubbed shoulders with some top names in the business.
"We went to several studios," Koplan said. "They treated me like a queen. My heart was bursting. The party AMC threw for us was my Cinderella night. Next to having my daughters, that was the most wonderful night of my life."
Brian Taylor, office manager and investigator for JJK, said the trip was great, although a little surreal.
"At the dinner, I sat next to John Dragonetti, who did the music for the show, and we just talked about music and went back and forth about our work, random stuff," Taylor said. "It was really neat just talking with him. Then I look over and there's Cheri Oteri from “Saturday Night Live” goofing off with Chief, and there were all these big-wigs that were just glad to be with us. You can't explain it. Christa (Stephens, office secretary at JJK) saw Lady Gaga getting off the elevator. It was just a real treat."
Irwin Koplan took a more relaxed approach to all the hype, attention and reviews.
"Well, you're not gonna please all the people all the time," he said. "There's just no way. But a high percentage of the criticism has been good, so that's nice. I just want to see people entertained and maybe get a little laughter out of those who need a good laugh."
Koplan said she has high hopes for an award nomination after the season, regardless of the mixed local reviews.
"This show is about us and how we share with one another," she said. "It would be a better world if we all shared our problems with somebody and helped bring people's decency out of them instead of their venom. There would be less criminals and less violent crime if there was a place where people who are having problems could go to talk to people who were willing to help them. That's what we have here. We share our problems."