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Scene from a Season 2 episode of the show "Ice Road Truckers"

Scene from a Season 2 episode of the show "Ice Road Truckers"

When you think about it, all those “reality” shows where contestants eat worms and wrestle in mud aren’t reality at all. But a new kind of reality TV has bellied up to the bar and elbowed past the buff little exhibitionists on Fear Factor.

Call it working man’s TV — sweat TV. It’s real people, drawing real pay, and risking their lives to do it.

They’ve got titles like “The Deadliest Catch.” “Ice Road Truckers.” “Ax Men.” And they’re pulling in the ratings like a Ford F-150 pulls out a tree stump.

For producer Thom Beers, there was no one “Eureka!” moment when he nailed the formula for this line of hugely successful shows. But if had to choose one, it was in 1999, when he clung to the mast of an Alaskan crabber in the worst storm in 30 years. If there was another, it was when he got his first royalty check for his hit show “Monster Garage”: It had a few more zeros than he was used to.

This hour: Working up a sweat with the mogul of working-man TV, Thom Beers.

You can join the conversation. Are you hooked? What’s different about these shows that has them pulling in viewers? Is this reality TV the way it was supposed to be?

* * *


Thom Beers, CEO and Executive Producer of Original Productions, and creator of “The Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “Black Gold,” “American’s Toughest Jobs” and other shows.

James Poniewozik, TV columnist for Time magazine and author of the blog Tuned In.  His piece “Reality TV’s Working-Class Heroes” looked at Thom Beers’ productions.

Phil Harris, captain of the fishing vessel Cornelia Marie, featured on “The Deadliest Catch.”

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  • Albert Hubbard

    Now I know who to blame for all these shows. I watched part of one season of deadliest catch. It was marginally interesting. I eventually realized that if I really wanted to watch people working I could go downtown and watch the buildings going up. Yes, it is dangerous work. But, after you have seen one season or a few episodes, there is nothing new. This is the same with all the reality shows. If I want to see a reality show I want a true science show. Not people’s everyday lives. Needless to say I no long watch these shows.

  • Heather

    I love the Alaska fisherman show. I actually worked for a summer as a long liner for halibut and black cod as well as siening for salmon. At the time, I was 22 yr old college graduate(I am 38 yrs old now)…and a WOMAN! This show reminds me of the great experiance I had working really hard with amazing people.

  • Bridget

    I watch Deadliest Catch because my son’s friend, Crosby Leveen, is a deckhand on the Wizard. I like the show but wish there was more fishing and less drama! Am I alone? Some of this past season’s drama looked invented to me. Don’t do that! The work is dramatic and exciting w/o the added drama.

  • jeff

    The New Reality show will take accountants and out of work real estate agents and train them to drive big rigs in Alaska and to be loggers and so on.

    What’s next, “Tour of Duty in Iraq”

  • Sojourner

    Forgive me folks for the candor, but this was just about the most vacuous hour of radio I’ve every heard. And from WBUR no less, always begging for funds for their Hi-Q content.

    What on earth were you thinking, running an unabashed promotion for one of the least interesting and most self-serving people on the media landscape?

  • jeff

    Good point Sojourner!
    What a waste of time and money.
    I commented on this on the first hour thread, the Friday weekly review should span the entire two hours.

    There is certainly enough grist for the mill.
    For instance, the caller who was a ‘Democrat’ who said she was not going to vote for Obama because of his lack of experience. Why is ti just because John McCain was in a POW does that make him a better choice for undeclared war time president?

    Would she have not voted for Kennedy in 1960?
    Also I have to say the panel did not catch the coded subtext of race in her statement. Even though they had just been talking about it.

    One very important issue that is not being discussed about security and the ‘war on terrorism’. You don’t fight terrorism like a conventional war. It’s a police action, it’s the only way to move forward in this arena.

    Ask the British, they have 30 years experience with it.

  • Jean

    I have watched every season of Deadliest Catch and have not gotten bored yet. This is the only reality show I watch. I can’t stand shows with elimination rounds and unabashed backstabbing. My thoughts go out to Phil and his family. I hope he gets better and actually takes care of himself.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/wen-stephenson/ Wen Stephenson

    Well, we all thought it was a lot of fun! (and a lighter note to end the week on.) And yet not without substance. Our guest James Poniewozik of Time has some interesting thoughts on the genre (if you will), and recommend the piece we linked to above. He writes at the end:

    “Underneath all the Hollywood packaging, there’s something universal in these shows. Beyond the grit, the series tell ordinary stories about working and living under stress. How do you get your lazy son or brother to shape up and contribute to the family business? What’s it like to have to fire a buddy? What do you do when your wife is expecting a baby any day but you can’t pass up a job?

    “Working-class TV may draw in viewers with the sensational promise of danger. (In Ax Men, computer animation shows what would happen if a logger got speared by a falling branch.) But underneath that is the scary reality, not unique to drillers and fishermen, of surviving boom-and-bust capitalism with no safety net. Deadliest Catch and its ilk celebrate rather than pity their heroes. But for all the big paydays the characters’ work can bring, the shows never forget that hard times are one slipup or bad break away. That’s the catch, and it’s a deadly one.”

  • jeff

    Yes it’s fun, but with all due respect right now people are hurting in this country. While I can see your point to lighten up the weeks news, it seems to me and others that there are more important issues out there. but hey it’s your show.

    I go to the movies to escape or rent DVD’s. I come to BUR for good news reports on issues that matter. I don’t need entertainment at 11:00 AM, I need some incite into what’s going on in the world.

    Sorry but this second hour was more like a commercial for Thom Beers’ programs. I hope BUR got a hefty ‘donation’ from him.

  • Sojourner

    Wen -

    Thanks for the ear and reply. Of course the staff thought it fun; it was your choice and you’re vested in it. But your customers, you listening audience, seem to think other-wise, as least some of them.

    Now what?

    As for not being devoid of substance, the genre may or may not be, but an hour long promo for a little-watched cable TV program most certainly is. The name of your program is On-Point, and in truth there was no point to this particular hour.

  • Anthony Musci

    Gee, I didn’t know that you had to be generally dour and disinterested in portrayals of the human condition to be a public radio listener. Deadliest Catch is not the most introspective documentary TV, but for a light relaxing hour, it provides a fascinating glimpse into a tumultuous blue-collar world that few of us NPR intelligentsia will ever experience.

  • jeff

    Anthony, I’m not dour nor disinterested, but if I wanted to watch about crab fishermen I would turn on cable TV.

    I would be more interested in seeing how meat packers work and how that industry works. As long as we are on the subject of ‘working class hero’s’. I guess you just can’t beat the romance of the ‘sea’.

    I don’t have a problem with these shows. I think it would have been more interesting to have spent the time dealing with this phenomenon, ‘the reality show’ and what they represent in relation to our culture and TV culture in general. You know putting writers out of work and so on.

    That would have been a better show I think.

  • http://chrisbrowntour.blogspot.com/ Orlando Glover

    chris brown is the best all u f0ckin haters r mad because he is famous and r not

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