By Cristy Fry
Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble especially if you are a star of one of the most popular shows on television, and, as happened last month, 160,000 NASCAR fans are screaming your name, as excited by your presence as they are by that of auto racing’s biggest name, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Photo by Cristy Fry, Homer News
Jake Harris signs t-shirts at the Global Foods trade show in Soldotna last week But the Bering Sea crab fishermen who make up the cast of the reality TV series “Deadliest Catch” are doing a pretty good job of not letting it go to their heads.
In its third season, the numbers surrounding the show, which airs on the Discovery Channel, are impressive: watched by 25 million viewers per week in 126 nations, surpassing “American Idol” in recent weeks as the most-watched show in its time slot on television.Larry Hendricks, a crab fisherman who appeared in the first five episodes and now works behind the scenes as a consultant for the show, is trying to understand the dynamics behind the popularity. “The ‘Deadliest Catch’ has taken off in terms of popularity to the point where we’ve created a cult amongst the working people of the world that relate to us,” he said.
“We’re not any different than the rest of the world, we put our pants on the same way, and to us it just astonishes us because people look at us as some type of a mega-star, and we’re just saying, ‘wow, we’re not anywhere near that!’
“It’s very interesting to us that what we do for a living, there are so many people out there that are fascinated by it,” he said.
Hendricks said that for now, they can often go out in public individually and remain anonymous, but put any combination of two or more together and it creates a commotion with fans seeking autographs and photos.
The shows’ origins go back to a one-hour documentary produced by Thom Beers, owner of Original Productions. Beers went to the Bering Sea aboard the Fierce Allegiance, skippered by Rick Mezich, to record the perils and thrills of America’s most dangerous occupation.
That was followed by a three-part documentary called “Deadliest Season.”
“That evidently set all kinds of records as far as viewing attendance,” Hendricks explained, “and really brought on the start of what we now know as the ‘Deadliest Catch.'”
This season the show features a number of Homer men, including brothers Jonathan, Andy and Neil Hillstrand, who own the Time Bandit, Russell Newberry, and Richard Gregoire. Ian Pitzman, skipper of the Jennifer A, also makes an appearance when his boat is trapped in the ice outside St. Paul harbor in the Pribilof Islands.
One of the newest members of the show, Josh Harris, crews on the Kodiak-based Cornelia Marie with his brother, Jake and his dad, Phil.
Josh said he is as baffled as everyone else by the popularity of the show.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would have made such a great TV show,” he said. “But people are watching it, and they’re enjoying it, which is pretty cool. But we’re just average people in the world, just trying to make it.”
Harris said that the rock-star treatment they receive as a result of the show’s popularity has probably changed him, but he hasn’t really figured out how yet.
However, he remains focused on the good things that can happen as a result of the notoriety.
For example, a young girl with terminal cancer had plans to fly up and meet them through the Make A Wish Foundation. Unfortunately, she died the day before she was scheduled to travel, but Harris sees it as an illustration of the potential to do good things.
“To be able to help somebody, especially kids, to be their heroes in a sense, that’s pretty cool to be in that position. We try to give back as much as we possibly can.”
Harris also said they stress to young people the importance of staying in school.
“We tell them, ‘you need to get an education, or else you’ll be doing something like this to make good money.'”