Deadliest Catch premiered on the Discovery Channel on April 12, 2005 and runs in over 150 countries. The first season had ten episodes, with the last airing on June 14, 2005. Season two was filmed one year later and began airing on March 28, 2006. Season three began airing April 3, 2007. April 15, 2008 was the fourth season premiere. On April 8, 2008 Discovery announced Deadliest Catch will return for a fifth season in its 2008-2009 lineup.
The series follows eight to ten crab fishing boats and their crews throughout two of the dangerous crab fishing seasons, the October king crab (frequently called "red crab" or "red gold" by crew members) season and the January opilio crab ("orange crab", "orange gold", or, as Northwestern crew member Matt Bradley dubbed them, "Norwegian dollars") season. The show emphasizes the very real danger to the crew on the decks of these boats, situations are just as dangerous for the Discovery Channel camera crews filming them as they are for any other member of the fleet. Each episode has a focus on a story or situation that occurs on one or more boats, with side stories on the backgrounds and particular activities of one or two crew members, in particular the "greenhorn" (inexperienced crew members) on several boats. The fleet's captains are featured prominently throughout the episodes, highlighting their camaraderie with their fellow captains and relationships with their crew, as well as their competitive nature against the other boats in the fleet regarding the hunt for crab throughout the fishing grounds. Common themes woven throughout the overarching storyline of the particular fishing season include friendly rivalries between the captains (particularly Johnathan Hillstrand of the Time Bandit and Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie), the familial ties throughout the fleet (the Hansen brothers, who own the Northwestern; Phil Harris and his two sons on the Cornelia Marie; brothers Johnathan, Andy, and Neal Hillstrand and Johnathan's son Scott of the Time Bandit), the stresses of life on the Bering Sea, and the high burnout rate among greenhorns.
Because Alaskan crab fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, the U.S. Coast Guard rescue squads stationed at Integrated Support Command Kodiak (Kodiak, Alaska) and their outpost on St. Paul Island, near the northern end of the crab fishing grounds, are frequently shown doing their own dangerous work: rescuing crab boat crew members who fall victim to the harsh conditions on the Bering Sea. The USCG rescue squad was featured prominently during the episodes surrounding the loss of F/V Big Valley in January 2005 and the loss of F/V Ocean Challenger in October 2006. The Discovery Channel keeps a camera crew stationed with the Coast Guard during the filming of the show.
The show has no on-camera host; instead, narrators provide commentary and verbally connect the storylines as the show shifts from one crab boat to another, through a mock-up radar transition screen that shows the boats in relation to each other and to the two ends of the fishing grounds, St. Paul Island to the north and Dutch Harbor to the south. Discovery Channel voice artist Mike Rowe, who narrates the U.S. airings of the series, was originally supposed to be the on-camera host as well and had appeared in taped footage as himself during the first season of shooting; as filming of the first season was nearing completion, Discovery greenlighted production on another Rowe project, Dirty Jobs, under the condition that Rowe choose only one show upon which to appear in person. As Rowe relates the story, Discovery told him that the two shows would be airing back-to-back on the same night, thus, "'we can't have you telling us stories about six dead fishermen on camera and making a fart joke with your arm in a cow's ass.'" Most of the footage Rowe shot during the first season became part of the first season's "Behind the Scenes" episode and Rowe later hosted the After the Catch specials in which the captains had a roundtable discussion of their experiences.
In North America, the series is narrated by Mike Rowe, while Bill Petrie, reading from a slightly altered script, provides a regionally familiar accent for the English speaking viewers of the show in Europe. The show takes a unique approach to censoring profanities spoken by the crews, using sound effects such as a ship's horn or a burst of radio static in addition to traditional bleeping.
The Behind the Scenes special provided insight on how the program is produced. A two-person TV crew lives on each boat profiled. They use handheld Sony HVR-Z1U HDV cameras to shoot most of the series (one on the main deck, one in the wheelhouse). Additional footage is provided by four stationary cameras that are permanently mounted around the ship and are constantly recording. Shots from vantage points outside the boat are accomplished through a variety of methods, including the use of a helicopter (for footage near the harbor) and a cameraman on a chase boat (in season 1, the main chase boat was the Time Bandit). The crew also makes use of underwater cameras, including one attached to a crab pot for a "crab's eye view" of the pot being retrieved in season 2, one mounted in the main crab tank on the Northwestern beginning in season 2, and one mounted to a submersible watercraft beginning in season 3.
Although the equipment is carefully waterproofed, the cameras are routinely damaged by saltwater corrosion, ice, and accidents. By the end of each production cycle, most of the fifty cameras (which cost, on average, $7,000 each) are no longer usable.
Filming episodes of Deadliest Catch is a dangerous occupation for the camera crews onboard the boats. In the early seasons, when many of the camera crews had little to no experience on crab boats, they frequently ran into dangers not normally encountered when filming a documentary. Northwestern captain Sig Hansen told talk show host Jimmy Kimmel that he saved a cameraman's life during the first season, screaming at him to get out of the way just seconds before a 900-pound crab pot swinging from a crane crossed the space where the cameraman had been standing and filming the storm surge. In another incident, showcased on the behind the scenes special, an inattentive cameraman ended up having his leg fall through an open hatch on the deck of one of the boats when he unwittingly stepped into the hole, suffering three broken ribs (and, according to the cameraman himself, having to buy a case of beer for the entire crew as per tradition on crab boats).
Some shots that would be difficult to capture with cameras are computer-generated imagery (CGI):
Sig Hansen, captain of the Northwestern, and Larry Hendricks, retired captain of the Sea Star who now runs a boat repair facility in Dutch Harbor, serve as technical advisors to the series' producers.
Commercial fishing has long been considered one of the most dangerous jobs in America. In 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked commercial fishing as the job occupation with the highest fatality rate with 141.7 per 100,000, almost 75 percent higher than the fatality rate of pilots, flight engineers and loggers, the next most hazardous occupations. However, Alaskan king crab fishing is considered even more dangerous than the average commercial fishing job due to the conditions of the Bering Sea during the seasons they fish. According to the pilot episode, the death rate during the main crab seasons averages out to nearly one fisherman per week, while the injury rate for crews on most crab boats in the fleet is nearly 100% due to the severe weather conditions (frigid gales, rogue waves, ice formations on and around the boat) and the danger of working with such heavy machinery on a constantly rolling boat deck. Alaskan king crab fishing reported over 300 fatalities per 100,000 as of 2005, with over 80% of those deaths caused by drowning or hypothermia.
The series' first season was shot during the final year of the derby style king crab fishery. The subsequent seasons have been set after the change to a quota system as part of a process known as "rationalization". Under the old derby style, a large number of crews competed with each other to catch crab during a restrictive time window. Under the new Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) system, established owners such as those shown on the series have been given quotas which they can fill at a more relaxed pace. In theory, it is intended to be safer, which was the main rationale for the change in the fishing rules. The transition to the quota system was also expected to increase the value of crab, by limiting the market of available crab. An influx of foreign crab negated some of these gains during the 2006 season. The rationalization process put many crews out of work as the owners of many small boats found their assigned quotas too small to meet operating expenses; during the first season run under the IFQ system, the fleet shrank from over 250 boats to around 89 mostly larger boats with high quotas.
Commercials for Season Three shown on the Discovery Channel family of networks featured an updated and faster version of the hit Styx song "Come Sail Away", performed by the punk rock cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.
Incidental music used in the episodes themselves is provided by Amygdala Music, a music production group run by Leslie Beers, wife of Deadliest Catch creator/producer Thom Beers.
In addition to incidental music, entire compositions written and performed by well-known recording artists are also added as "episode themes." An example would be the song "Always a Rebel," written and performed by folk-rock recording artist Vinnie James, at the request of the show's producer, Matt Renner, when the two met in Dutch Harbor during the filming of the 2008 season of Deadliest Catch. The song appeared as the theme track to "The Final Hour," which was the season finale for the 2008 season. Lines of the song were inspired by accounts of life on the Bering Sea by Josh Harris of the Cornelia Marie and series Director of Photography Zac McFarlane.
The song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot was rumored to have been jokingly suggested for the title theme before production began. But this was quickly dropped because the production team did not want to worry the audience about a possible connection to the crew featured on the show and the unfortunate end to the sailors of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The show is filmed aboard various fishing vessels, some of which change between seasons. The only fishing boat that has appeared in every episode of the series through the end of the fourth season is the Northwestern, captained by series consultant Sig Hansen.
|Aleutian Ballad||Jerry "Corky" Tilley||2, 3|
|Arctic Dawn||Ole Helgevold||Pilot|
|Big Valley 1||Gary Edwards||1 (Opilio season)|
|Billikin||Jeff Weeks||1 (Opilio season)|
|Cornelia Marie||Phil Harris2||1 (Opilio season), 2, 3, 4; After the Catch|
|Early Dawn||Allen Oakley||3|
|Farwest Leader||Greg Moncrief (seen docked in St.Paul in season 2 opening)||3,|
|Fierce Allegiance||Tony LaRussa 3||1 (King crab season)|
|Lady Alaska||Pete Liske||1 (Opilio season)|
|Lucky Lady||Vince Shavender||1 (King crab season)|
|Maverick||Rick Quashnick||1 (Opilio season), 2; After the Catch; 4 (Seen Docked)|
|Blake Painter||3 (King crab season)|
|North American||Sten Skaar||4|
|Northwestern||Sig Hansen||Pilot, 1, 2, 3, 4; After the Catch|
|Retriever||Jim Stone||1 (Opilio season)|
|Rollo||Eric Nyhammer 4||2|
|Saga||Roger Strong||Pilot, 1 (Opilio season)|
|Sea Star||Larry Hendricks||Pilot, 1, 3; After the Catch; 4 (chase boat)|
|Time Bandit 5||Johnathan Hillstrand (King crab season), Andy Hillstrand (Opilio season)||1, 2, 3, 4; After the Catch|
|Western Viking||Coleman Anderson||1 (King crab season)|
|Wizard||Keith Colburn, Monte Colburn (Opilio Season 3)||3, 4, (Seen Docked Last Episode Season 2)|
|Alaska Ranger||On March 23, 2008, the Alaska Ranger began taking on water in its rudder room and stern and sank. The forty-seven people on board were forced into the water; all but five were rescued.||4|
|Alaskan Monarch||Ran aground at St. Paul Island due to ice in 1990. All of the crew was saved, but the boat was destroyed.||2, 3|
|American Star||Catches fire and runs aground in February 2000; all 5 crewmen plus one dog rescued.||1|
|Big Valley||Sank at the start of the 2005 opilio season; five of six crew died. Coast Guard investigation later determined that the boat was severely overloaded by over 30% of her declared pot weight, causing her to tip over during a storm the morning of January 15, 2005..||1|
|Galaxy||Caught fire at sea during 2002 King Crab Season. All 23 crew members rescued by Coast Guard; three men later died from injuries sustained during the fire.||1|
|Jennifer A||Partner boat of Time Bandit. Pranked by Time Bandit with a flour pot in Season 3 Wrap-up.||3|
|Master Carl||Sank in April 1976 returning home from Tanner Crab Season. All 4 crew members abandoned ship and made it into the life raft, but only 2 were found alive.||1|
|Four-man crew abandons ship as boat capsized and took on water in October 2006. One survivor; two bodies found; one body lost. Debris field, EPIRB, and empty life raft found along with empty survival suit, indicating vessel ultimately sank. Rescue efforts featured in the season 3 episodes "A Tragic Beginning" and "The Unforgiving Sea".||3|
|Raven||Capsized. All crew rescued by Coast Guard. Later towed to Dutch Harbor and repaired.||pilot|
|Rosie G||Sank in 1997. Six-man crew escaped in a life raft and were rescued by the Coast Guard.||1|
|Sea Rover||Assists in the search for Big Valley.||1|
|Shaman||Man falls overboard while on the pot stack in 2004 and drowns.||pilot|
|St. Patrick||Tipped 90 degrees and took on water in engine compartment in December 1981. 11-man crew tied themselves together and leapt into the sea when the life boat was lost. Only two men survived. It was later discovered that the boat had righted herself after the crew abandoned ship; the vessel was found adrift by the Coast Guard and towed into port still afloat before she finally sank while moored in port..||1|
|Sultan||Man falls overboard and drowns, becoming the sixth fatality within the first 24 hours of the 2005 opilio season.||1|
|Trailblazer||Man falls overboard while tying pot stacks in October 2006; rescued by Time Bandit.||3|
|Unidentified vessel||Shadows the Wizard and is accused by her captain of tampering with the vessel's pots.||4|
(Alaska Marine Enforcement Section Patrol Vessel)
|Assists in search and rescue efforts when the Big Valley sinks.||1|
(U.S. Coast Guard cutter)
|Conducts an at-sea boarding on the Rollo.||2|
|USPCC Overseas Joyce|
(U.S. Pure Car Carrier freighter)
|Assists in search and rescue efforts when the Ocean Challenger sinks.||3|
(U.S. Coast Guard cutter)
|Assists in search and rescue efforts when the Ocean Challenger sinks.||3|
|Offloads the opilio from the Time Bandit, anchored at St. Paul in the middle of a dangerous ice pack.||3|
|Suffers an engine room fire at the start of the opilio season, forcing the crab boat crews to suspend fishing or look for bairdi crab. Towed back to Dutch Harbor and repaired||3|
|Takes on water, tips over on its side during a storm at sea and is towed into Dutch Harbor in the first episode of Season 3||3|
|Crewmember medevaced by United States Coast Guard rescue helicopter||4|
As of the end of season 4 in 2008, a total of 53 episodes of Deadliest Catch have been shown, not counting the pilot series America's Deadliest Season, which had three episodes. The show draws consistently high ratings for Discovery Channel; season three attracted more than 49 million viewers over the course of the season and over 3 million viewers per first-run episode, making it one of 2007's most successful programs on cable TV.
Deadliest Catch was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards for the 2007 television season. The series itself was nominated for Outstanding Nonfiction Series; the third season episode "The Unforgiving Sea" received nominations for Outstanding Cinematography For Nonfiction Programming, Outstanding Picture Editing For Nonfiction Programming, and Outstanding Sound Mixing For Nonfiction Programming (Single or Multi-camera).
The show was created as a regular series after two well-received pilots about Alaskan crabbing were produced by Thom Beers for the Discovery Channel. The first special was a documentary entitled The World's Deadliest Job; the second was a three-part miniseries called America's Deadliest Season, featuring one of the vessels that would later make up the regular "cast" of Deadliest Catch, the Northwestern. Beers did the voiceover narration for both series; when Discovery picked up the show and ordered an 8-episode season, Beers turned the narration duties over to fellow Discovery Channel voice artist Mike Rowe, allowing Beers to continue working on new show development through his production company Original Productions.
After the Catch is a documentary-style television mini-series that follows the captains from Deadliest Catch when they're not fishing. Meeting at the Lockspot Cafe, a bar in Seattle, Washington's Ballard neighborhood, Deadliest Catch narrator Mike Rowe joins them as they swap stories old and new about the experiences and sights while fishing the cruel Bering Sea. They also shot an After the Catch II at Pratty's Bar in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
The After the Catch miniseries was one of Discovery Channel's highest rated miniseries in 2007 and spawned several additional after-the-series type follow-up documentaries such as Everest: After the Climb, the 2007 follow-up to Everest: Beyond the Limit.
Also in April 2008, Discovery Channel released the book Deadliest Catch: Desperate Hours (ISBN 978-0696239427). Edited by Larry Erikson, the book contains true stories of life and death at sea, as related by the captains and deckhands featured on the series.
In February 2008, Sig Hansen and Liquid Dragon Studios announced the upcoming release of a video game for Xbox 360 and PC inspired by the Deadliest Catch series entitled Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm. Liquid Dragon designers spent time with the Hansens on the Northwestern in the safety of Dutch Harbor and out on the Bering Sea to give them a sense of the real conditions that needed to be duplicated in the game. The game itself features the Northwestern, Cornelia Marie, and Sea Star as crab boats that can be chosen by the player, along with two other boats that have yet to be named. On June 17, 2008, the game was released in stores around North America..
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