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Manly-man TV

Thom Beers taps into the tough-to-reach market of young men with macho reality shows such as 'Deadliest Catch,' 'Ax Men' and 'Ice Road Truckers.' More testosterone is on the way.

October 08, 2010|By T.L. Stanley, Special to the Los Angeles Times

Everything about Thom Beers suggests perpetual motion.

The prolific television producer of such muscle-flexing series as "Deadliest Catch" and "Ax Men" ripped across the 101 on a Harley in time for a recent interview at his Burbank office, where he hopped behind a desk fashioned from the wing of a 737 and queued up clips of his latest show, "Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads," which premiered on History to an impressive audience of 3.4 million viewers Sunday.

He was a blur of arm gestures and contagious enthusiasm, making it easy to understand one network executive's description of him as "the human equivalent of a Gatling gun." He's rapid fire. Try to keep up.

Beers' Original Productions has more than a dozen series on the air; the latest is the Himalayas-set spinoff of one of his most successful franchises, "Ice Road Truckers," which ended its fourth season on History on Sunday. A classic car and motorcycle collector and avid sportsman, Beers has for decades blended his hobbies and his profession by navigating dangerous terrain all over the world but said the former yak trails in India's mountains intimidated him so much that he knew they were the perfect filming location.

"It's the only place I've ever said, 'No way, I won't drive there,' " he said. "It's chaos — nothing controlled about it."

Three popular drivers from the Alaska-based "Ice Road Truckers" star in the new show, tasked with hauling livestock, sheets of glass, explosives, sacred religious statues and other delicate loads along ominously named "Freefall Freeway" that features 1,000-foot cliffs (and no guardrails). Weather conditions can change on a dime on the decaying, overcrowded roads, which date to the 1800s, and fatalities happen daily.

"When I saw the footage start to come in, I said, 'What was I thinking?' " said Nancy Dubuc, president and general manager of the History networks and a longtime collaborator with Beers. "It's insane."

Dubuc also has high hopes for "Around the World in 80 Ways," a show that Beers will produce for History. And for the first time, he'll be the on-air talent. Since he never seems to sit still, it makes sense that he'll be the one circling the globe with a sidekick (yet to be named) via a variety of mechanical, human-powered and animal transport.

"He's a personality every bit as fun and emotional and engaging and wacky as 95% of the people we put on the air," Dubuc said.

Beers, who's trained as an actor and does the voice-of-God-style narration for many of his series, spent 11 years at Turner Broadcasting, where he cut his teeth on nonfiction programming and developed the testosterone-charged docusoap format that's become all the rage on cable TV.

Injuries are common for both the cast and crew of Beers' workplace shows. In season 6 of "Deadliest Catch," a rogue wave smashed into the Wizard, injuring three fishermen. Camera operators and other crew members routinely get teeth knocked out, ribs broken and limbs sprained.

Even so, the 58-year-old hit maker is more in demand now than ever, given that his macho adventure series attract a large and loyal following of tough-to-reach young men and can be created, even with exotic locales and film-quality production values, for a fraction of the cost of scripted programs.

Beers is known for finding colorful manly-men characters in obscure life-and-limb jobs and making them household names, as he did for Phil Harris, a crab boat captain on Discovery's "Deadliest Catch." Harris died following a massive stroke during filming of the recently aired Season 6, with the episodes becoming the most watched in the channel's history and the highest-rated unscripted shows in their time periods on TV.

A "Deadliest Catch" spinoff series starring Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand of the Time Bandit however went off the rails before it ever hit the air. Discovery sued the fishermen brothers for $3 million, saying they didn't perform their contracted duties on "Hillstranded," the name for the planned spinoff. The men fired back by quitting the flagship series, set to begin filming season 7 next week in Dutch Harbor.

In solidarity with the Hillstrands, another popular captain, Sig Hansen, said he would drop out of "Deadliest Catch." Beers said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit, but that "Deadliest Catch's" new season will feature Josh and Jake Harris, sons of the late Phil Harris, and at least one other crab fishing boat.

Fans, meanwhile, have taken to the show's Discovery-backed Facebook page to vent, posting such comments as, "Discovery: Fix this!" and "I won't be watching" if the three captains are missing from the lineup. While some of the 4,400 posts support the network, the majority say they just want the fishermen back.

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