The Feb. 9 death of 53-year-old Bering Sea crab-boat Capt. Phil Harris of the F/V Cornelia Marie following a stroke suffered on Jan. 29, presents some challenges for Thom Beers, the executive producer of Discovery Channel’s reality hit “Deadliest Catch,” which has included Harris’ boat in its Alaskan fleet since the show’s first season in 2005.
“When we were casting the series,” says Beers, “it was one of the first boats. I cast him because he looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, one of those kind of guys. [He had] the most soulful, doleful look.”
Also, Harris had two young-adult sons, Jake and Josh, who both eventually came to work on the boat. Harris’ sons were with him when he died in an Anchorage, Alaska, hospital after briefly awakening from a medically induced, post-surgical coma, but the relationship was not often smooth sailing.
Recalls Beers, “When the boys got a hold of his credit card and bought a flat-screen TV and clothes, he looked at the camera and said, ‘Now I know why lions kill their young.’ It was just such a perfect line.
“It was fun watching the man go through a second fatherhood … The guy was trying hard to be a dad after not being much of a dad his whole life.”
Asked if he thinks the family reunion would have happened without the show, Beers says, “You know, probably not. Listen, these boys, they wanted to be with their dad, but they also loved that TV time. Probably television is quite a seductive tool to put families together.
“In this case, it worked. It was a real interesting look at fatherhood in this very dangerous, exotic place.”
“Deadliest Catch” returns for its sixth season sometime in April, comprising footage shot both during the king-crab season in the late fall and opilio-crab season in January — meaning Harris will be featured in a majority of the episodes.
“Everybody, obviously, on Phil’s side of the story, knows the ending,” says Beers, “but they’re not going to know the twists and turns of the season. It’s pretty remarkable.
“The season starts out with another shipwreck. A boat goes down, and actually some kid’s got a Flip cam, and he’s filming this. It’s unbelievable.
“The world will go on, and we’ll tell the story.”
According to Beers, Harris’ stroke and death happen somewhere between episodes 12 and 15 of the 16-episode season.
Wherever it lands, says Beers, “We’ll roll out a special that night, like, at 10 o’clock, which would be basically 60 minutes of Phil and his life on the Cornelia Marie.”
Beers would also like — schedule and other things permitting — to get “Deadliest Catch” narrator Mike Rowe (“Dirty Jobs”) to come back to be host of “After the Catch,” the roundtable-discussion companion show featuring the crab captains, crews and families reviewing clips and sharing tales.
“We’re hoping, this year,” Beers says, “that Mike can find time in his schedule, and it all works out and falls into line. He’s so much a part of the show. He’s very busy. He’d doing a lot of Ford spots or something.”
As for the future of the Cornelia Marie, Beers says, “Phil owned [the crab] quota. So it’s up to the boys if they want to go fishing, or if they want to lease it. They can lease it to another boat and then just get a check. So that’s going to be the big question, whether they want to step in their dad’s footsteps.”
Fans will get a chance to remember and pay tribute to Harris, first,
with a 15-episode marathon of season four and five episodes, starting at noon
(ET/PT) on Saturday, Feb. 20; and then at the second
edition of the fan gathering CatchCon, reportedly planned for later
this spring in Seattle.
Photo credit: Discovery Channel