According to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics, the observation of a phenomenon affects the phenomenon, so you can never be 100 percent sure what would have happened if you had not looked.
This is never more true than in reality TV, which by its very nature — camera crews, lights, producers, etc., — can’t exactly reflect the way reality is when it isn’t being filmed. But some things are what they are, and TV doesn’t have much to do with it.
For example, in the early seasons of Discovery’s Tuesday-night crab-fishing show “Deadliest Catch,” which launched its 10th season on April 22, it was derby fishing, where the Bering Sea crab fleet had a limited amount of time to catch as much crab as possible, which was inherently dramatic.
Then the quota system was introduced, and the mad dash for the crab turned into a constant effort to acquire quota to pay the bills, and then the long grind to fill it.
“Season 1 was derby fishing,” says executive producer Jeff Conroy to Zap2it, “which was ‘winner takes all.’ It’s more about the game and the strategy of catching the crab as fast as you can. A lot of people have said to me, ‘Well, the derby’s done, so I guess your show’s done.’ I was like, ‘No.’
“Our approach was, ‘Now we’re actually going to tell character stories. There are a lot of stories out there we haven’t had time to tell. Now we’re going to tell those.’
“It happens that the great character stories out there are the family relationships — the fathers, the sons, the brothers. For anyone in the business, anywhere in the world, they can relate to working with family members; they can relate to giving their kid the best tools so they can move forward in life. They can relate to worrying about family members, being harder on family members than themselves.
“These are universal themes that people really gravitate towards. It’s like me, I don’t have (a crab boat); I have two brothers. that’s why the show’s universal. And it’s like comeback of men. It’s a TV show where men can be men.”
One of the favorite family stories is that of the Harris clan — late father Capt. Phil Harris, and sons Josh and Jake. For opilio-crab season last January, older brother Josh (seen in the photo at top with his father and “Deadliest” cameraman/producer Todd Stanley) finally got his father’s boat, the F/V Cornelia Marie, back in the water and fishing for crab.
It was the culmination of a long process that began with his father’s death in early 2010 and proceeded through years of efforts to become full owner of the boat, deal with his younger brother’s substance-abuse issues, and assemble enough quota to turn a profit.
“What is nice,” says Conroy, “is the camera makes you accountable. For Josh, he could have easily gone off and taken a job somewhere else, and it probably would have been a lot easier. But he also had millions of people watching and wondering, and that’s a lot of pressure.
“My feeling is, it certainly wouldn’t have happened without the cameras being there. It’s a heavy influence.”
Asked whether being on TV has been a net positive or a net negative, Harris says, “You know, I don’t even know anymore. They make it look the way they want. The thing about our show is, it’s probably the only reality show that’s just reality.
“Everything has to be done at my own rate. It’s the actual struggles that everyone goes through. It’s why we’re here for 10-plus years now, because what you see is what you get. They just sit in the shadows and film as it’s really happening.”
But, as Harris says, reality is reality.
“Everyone wanted me to go out and do this, and everyone encouraged me to do it, and then I’m hearing things … They encouraged me to do it, but when it came to getting quota, that’s tough.”