SURF THIS: 'Deadliest' show catches fans-on TV and online

May 5, 2008

You're either with us or against us.

In this case, "us" refers to those who are just a little hooked on Discovery Channel-the huddled masses who quietly fret that Mike Rowe might run out of "Dirty Jobs" or who are inexplicably fascinated (and, yes, repulsed) by "Verminators." Or the pseudo-quasi-science geeks who occasionally plan their nights around "Smash Lab" and bemoan the change of hosts for "Mythbusters." You know, us.

For some of you, that paragraph was met with nods, sighs, and a "Yeah, Jim, I hear you, man." Others may not have gotten to this sentence because they were lost at Mike Rowe. Like I said, you're either with us or against us.

But none of the admittedly great programming on Discovery seems to match the allure of fan-favorite "Deadliest Catch." The show chronicles the real (and very dangerous) lives of the crews of five Alaskan fishing crews as they put to the Bering Sea to haul in enough crab to pay their bills for a year.

Commercial fishing has long been considered one of the deadliest jobs in America. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a fatality rate of almost 30 times the rate of the average worker. In other words, although we occasionally complain that our jobs are killing us, for the crews of these boats they often are.

With possible death lurking over their collective shoulders, the crews also face a near 100 percent injury rate due to the harsh weather conditions on the Bering Sea, the heavy equipment aboard the boats required to do their work, and the utter fatigue that accompanies 36-hour stretches on deck.

Why do they do it? Well, they're crazy. While that certainly helps make it palatable (and offers some very compelling television), they also do it for the money. Full crew members can earn tens of thousands of dollars each season. Or, to put it another way, they can earn a year's salary in a few weeks.

The danger, camaraderie among crew and captains, and overarching story lines captured the imaginations and attention of 49 million viewers last season, making "Deadliest Catch" one of the year's most successful cable television programs. That combination has spilled into the online world, as well.

At the show's Web site (discovery.com/deadliestcatch), visitors can get caught up on everything they might have missed, including videos of complete episodes, video podcasts and behind-the-scenes features.

There are full biographies of the captains from each boat and a few blogs maintained by members of the production crew who live onboard the boats with the fishing crews. You can even send the crew an audio message wishing them safe passage or asking a question.

Some of the best content, however, hasn't been created by Discovery. As a testament to the power of the Internet-and displayed in ways that would make most marketers and brand managers green with envy-fans of the show are creating and maintaining much of the site. There's a message board containing thousands of posts on topics ranging from the latest show to facing danger on the job. There are glossaries, photo galleries, fan art, crab fishing 101, classroom lesson plans and even a crew look-a-like contest. All told, there are thousands of pages of content, all created by fans.

The site design is striking and the navigation is simple and easy to understand. Some of the main features draw from Discovery's considerable resources, but once you get into the fan-generated content, the design of the site falls victim to the vagaries of the software. Still, the content makes up for any shortcomings.

So join us. Stop by the site today, watch a couple of recent shows to whet your appetite, and then check the TV schedule for the next airing. Trust me, when it comes to "Deadliest Catch," you'd rather be with us than against us.

Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.
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