Media watch: Deadly move?


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
October 5, 2010

A major casting change can be disastrous for a reality TV program. So will the departure of three stars and the death of another prove to be deadly for the popular Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch?”

The news that three prominent crab boat captains — Sig Hansen and Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand — may not return to the show due to a breach-of-contract dispute proved to be Hollywood fodder at the end of September, with news outlets from E! to the New York Times covering the blowup. ABC News questioned whether the show could sustain such a loss: “The stakes are high for Discovery. Without Hansen, the Hillstrands or Capt. Phil Harris, who died in February, the network risks damaging one if its biggest franchises.”

When the show premiered in 2005, it elevated Alaska crab to rock star status, raising consumer awareness of the crab-fishing industry and perhaps boosting crab consumption in the United States. The show gave viewers a new appreciation for commercial fishing. Putting a story behind seafood also gave consumers an understanding of why the product can be expensive.

So will a drop in ratings hurt U.S. crab sales?

Rob George, president of the Crab Broker in Las Vegas, doesn’t think so. George, who regularly takes buyers to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to see the industry firsthand, admits that the show was a boon for Alaska crab, but not a massive one.

“If they cancel and it’s over, I don’t really think it will have a negative effect,” said George. “[The success of the show] depends on who they cast. If they have good personalities and good story lines, people will watch.”

George also thinks that if demand for king crab drops, it won’t be because of Deadliest Catch.

“At the same time this is happening, this year they reduced the quota, so there will be record high prices,” he said. “I project the quotas will keep being reduced a little, so there’s not enough crab anyway.”

Deadliest Catch fans are far from happy. The TV news source reported that the show’s fans are using social media networks to express their anger. And once the fans go, so do ratings. Hopefully, lower ratings for Deadliest Catch won’t mean lower interest in crab.

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