Reality TV has brought birth, dating, marriage, divorce, drinking, dieting, hiring, firing and old age into American homes. And now, death.
The next four episodes of Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” document in grueling detail the death of Capt. Phil Harris, a skipper who braved the Bering Sea each winter for both Alaskan king crab and a popular TV show.
Captain Harris, 53, died in February, almost two weeks after a crippling stroke on his ship, the Cornelia Marie, while docked at St. Paul Island off the Aleutian Islands. Since then, the show’s producers have grappled with a question that is new to reality TV: how do you tell a true story about a man’s final days without crossing the boundaries of good taste and offending viewers?
The producers say they opted not to show graphic hospital scenes of Captain Harris after the right side of his skull had been removed to relieve pressure on his brain. Still, in the episode to be shown on Tuesday, viewers are face to face with him in the cramped stateroom minutes after his stroke; with paramedics in the ambulance; and with his tearful sons, Josh and Jake, who have to figure out what to do with the family business. The forthcoming episodes “are reflective of issues that every family has to deal with,” said Clark Bunting, the president and general manager of Discovery Channel .
The ratings for “Deadliest Catch” are up about 4 percent this season, to an average of 3.6 million an episode, according to the Nielsen Company. It stands to reason that viewers who already know how the story ends want to see how it unfolds. Discovery will show a memorial episode on July 20.