If Virginia is for lovers, then Pike County is for feuding.
The History channel miniseries about the infamous Kentucky and West Virginia families has drawn huge viewership, propelling the Eastern Kentucky county into the pop-culture ether and pushing a historical tome by a Lexington publisher to the top of the sales charts.
"It's something crazy," said John Hussey, director of marketing and sales for The University Press of Kentucky. It first published The Hatfields & the McCoys by Otis K. Rice in 1982. Sales have exploded during the past few days.
"It's gone completely viral," Hussey said.
The miniseries Hatfields & McCoys is an unexpected blockbuster. The first part — which aired Monday night — was seen by 13.9 million viewers and more than 17 million when the immediate repeat was added, the Nielsen company said. The numbers held up for part two Tuesday, which was watched by 13.1 million, Nielsen said.
Those are huge numbers in cable television. No scripted series on the broadcast networks last week came close, according to The Associated Press. By contrast, Fox's series finale of House last week reached 8.7 million people.
The miniseries' success was featured in a segment on NBC Nightly News on Wednesday. Weekend anchor Lester Holt, who was filling in for regular anchor Brian Williams, said Hatfields & McCoys was the second most-watched non-sports show in basic cable history. The top spot was held by High School Musical 2, which debuted on the Disney Channel in front of more than 17.2 million viewers in 2007.
Hatfields & McCoys features Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton in a violent and sweeping epic retelling of the feud.
The feud has always brought tourists to the area where it took place, but there's renewed interest because of the miniseries. And Tony Tackett, director of tourism for Pike County, couldn't be happier.
The tourism department Web site proudly proclaims "Pike County, KY: The Only Place To See Hatfield McCoy Feud Sites," and Tackett said Wednesday that people are coming.
The Pike County visitors bureau has created a driving tour, a map and a companion CD that, the Web site says, takes tourists to historical markers "telling tragic stories from the feud, serving as a reminder of past mistakes and the price of a grudge."
Sales of the tour, which includes a $15 CD/map package, are up 60 percent this week, Tackett said. Hotel and restaurant business is on the rise, and school field trips to the area are being planned for the fall, he said.
The people of Pike County are proud of their history, even the feud, Tackett said. But he sees the true Hatfield and McCoy story, as shown in the miniseries, as part love story, part adventure on horseback, part history.
"Everybody loves a good story," he said.
Renewed interest in the book The Hatfields & the McCoys surged once the miniseries began, Hussey said. The press has exhausted its inventory of hard copies, and sales of e-books are spiking, he said. Before the series, sales were slow, maybe 300 copies a year. Hardcover sales had risen 325 percent as of Wednesday afternoon on Amazon.com. It had been ranked 1,544, but on Wednesday afternoon, it was ranked 363.
The new book Blood Feud: The Hatfields and the McCoys: The Epic Story of Murder and Vengeance by Lisa Alther ranked 67th on Amazon.com and had gone up 208 percent as of Wednesday afternoon.
Hussey conservatively estimated at least 1,000 copies of the e-book have sold in the first two days of the miniseries, making it the best-selling University Press of Kentucky e-book ever. And it's rising in the top 100 current sales of all e-books at Barnesandnoble.com and is in the top genealogy books on Amazon.com. "We are ahead of the Hunger Games trilogy," he said.
Tackett said he hoped the tale will be retold. He said actor Brad Pitt has long owned the movie rights to one of the books on the Hatfield and McCoy saga. He said he hoped the popularity of the miniseries might prompt Pitt to start the project.
Last weekend, stories about the miniseries were among the most frequently read on Kentucky.com, the Herald-Leader's Web site.
The three-part Hatfields & McCoys miniseries ended Wednesday night. Some reruns are scheduled.