Deadliest Catch: From reality to requiem.

As a rule I am not a fan of reality television.

My disdain for the genre runs very deep.  Having grown up in the era of M.A.S.H., Hill Street Blues and Happy Days, I crave the days where actual creativity ruled the TV airwaves. 

The exception to that rule: Deadliest Catch.


At the end of last month, the massive stroke suffered by Captain Phil Harris of the F/V Cornelia Marie captured the the record for the most watched cable program. Ever.  For the few of you who may not know, Phil Harris is considered to be the heart of the documentary series on the Discovery Channel that began airing in April, 2005.   The show is about the Alaskan King and Opilio Crab seasons in the Bering Sea that runs from late fall until early spring each year and the boats that take part in it.  It takes place in some of the worst weather and the roughest seas imaginable.  While basically a repetitive visual display of deckhands tossing the hook at buoys in miserable weather and high seas, it is the stories of the individual crews that moves the show forward.

Which brings us to the most compelling story of the shows 5 year run, Phil Harris and his stroke.  Not to spoil the story for the newer viewers of the show but it will take him.  The stroke happened while Harris and the Cornelia Marie were in port and that occurred on January 29th of this year.  By February 10th, he was gone.  Regular viewers of the show know that the man’s health actually started failing two seasons ago, when Harris was tossed from his bunk when the Cornelia Marie was taking heavy rolls and what he thought was broken ribs turned out to be a blood clot that travelled through his heart and into his lungs.

It wasn’t too hard to figure out that, barring a major medical miracle the next thing to happen medically to Phil Harris was going to end badly and unfortunately, it did.  This years Deadliest Catch season has been building up to the tragic event.  The show doesn’t debut on Discovery Channel until April and by then the news of Harris’ death had been made public on the national news.  Larry King had interviewed Phil’s sons Josh and Jake, and viewers like me were wondering how the series would handle the stroke and it’s aftermath.

As it turns out, so far it’s been all aces.  Unlike other reality shows that over narrate the events that take place, the suddenness of Harris’ stroke hits like the many rogue waves we’ve seen the boats take over the years.  Literally from out of nowhere.  In one moment, Harris is reminiscing about his kids and looking over old photographs with his two sons and the next, he’s being hauled out of his boat on a stretcher lifted by it’s crane.  It closes the show and the last thing we see is a long helicopter shot of the Cornelia Marie tied to the dock with only somber music playing.  Visually impacting on many different levels.

With the morass of reality programming out there on the airwaves something like this brings hope to reality TV.  I will stop short of saying that something as tragic as the death of Phil Harris will reverse the drivelous trend that the genre has taken of late, but hopefully it will take the utter mindlessness of seeing prima donnas who call themselves unique because they have multiple children with the help of fertility drugs and bitchy brides who lose their minds when something goes wrong at a wedding.