Discovery’s engrossing ‘Deadliest Catch’ returns

There are three types of reality shows. One is the competition show, in which contestants vie for a prize. The second is the spectacle, in which people, often celebrities, make fools of themselves with their over-the-top antics.

Only the third comes anywhere near real life, and those are the shows where the camera is least obtrusive, following unusual people in interesting situations or occupations. Discovery is currently the most adept at this type of show, as it started the trend several years ago with “American Chopper” and continued with shows like “Dirty Jobs” and “Man vs. Wild.”

Tonight the most intriguing of its real-life shows returns for a third season. “Deadliest Catch,” which premieres at 9 p.m., follows eight different boats of crab fishermen in Alaska, where they battle dangerous elements to do their jobs.

The men risk their lives for a hefty reward, with boat captains earning some $500,000 annually in a good year. The way they’re presented on Discovery, the men are driven to the hunt by more than money, however.

There’s a man-versus-nature element that also keeps many of them coming back, despite the fact that fellow crew members have died or been disabled. Others have had their wives walk out on them over their obsession.

“Catch” was Discovery’s top-rated show last year and does especially well in the 25-54s that the network targets. It should receive a boost after being advertised during the highly rated “Planet Earth” special that began two Sundays ago and averaged more than 5.7 million viewers for its first three episodes.

And while Discovery is clearly targeting a largely male audience, also premiering a new show about dangerous animals at 10 p.m., “Catch” fans aren’t all men. The fishermen have said they receive numerous romantic proposals via fan mail during the season, and the message boards at Discovery are filled with women going on about their bodies rather than their boats.

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