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All Hands on Deck for ‘Deadliest Catch’

A new season of Deadliest Catch, its 15th, starts on Discovery April 9. The show depicts the brutal battle for crabs in the Bering Sea. “A new boat blows into town, rumored to know where over a quarter-billion dollars worth of king crabs are located,” Discovery teases. Everyone else will do just about anything to get in on the bounty.

Compounding the anxiety, the weather off the Alaska coast is downright unforgiving. Capturing it all is improved technology, including new RED Helium, Gemini and Dragon cameras shooting the action. “It gives us the look of a feature film, even though it’s a documentary,” said Decker Watson, executive producer with Deadliest Catch producer Original Productions.

The Southern Wind, The Wizard and Saga are among the boats featured this season. Bill Howard, Discovery executive producer, spoke with Multichannel News about the new season.

Discovery's 'Deadliest Catch'

Discovery's 'Deadliest Catch'

MCN: What has enabled Deadliest Catch to last for 15 seasons?
Bill Howard: People have a primal fear of and an attraction to the ocean. Deadliest Catch has been able to capture that in the most visceral and compelling way possible and it continues to step up its game season after season. The amount of work that goes into figuring out the best technology, the best camera techniques, the best talent that you can put into a show like this allows Discovery to continue to keep the bar very, very high.

MCN: What’s different about this season?
BH: We have a new captain who is part of a fishery survey who was able to determine that the bulk of the king crab hoard was in one area called the Mud Pit. He kept that information secret, but it soon got out. By the time we’re into the first and second episodes, they’re all fishing on top of each other. It becomes very competitive.

MCN: How many more seasons for Deadliest Catch?
BH: I wouldn’t begin to speculate. I think it’s got a long run. We end up with an incredible amount of material. We’re premiering back-to-back, two-hour episodes at the top of the season. There’s just so much incredibly compelling content.

MCN: What have you learned from the fishermen over the years?
BH: You learn a lot about risk versus reward, the give and take when you’re pursuing something to make a living. These guys epitomize that balance, where they’re constantly taking extreme risks in one of the most extreme environments on the planet in order to return a decent living for their families.

MCN: What compels them to do the show?
BH: These captains would be doing exactly the same things with or without the cameras present. We’ve been able to work with captains who are willing to take on the additional burden of a camera crew on the boat and that’s what makes the show as compelling as it is. The captains become less aware of the crew over time and they just continue to do what they do.

MCN: What’s your favorite moment this season?
BH: There’s a great sequence in the premiere on the Cornelia Marie, where Josh and Casey are pulling up their first pot of the season. Everything comes down to the contents of that pot — whether they made the right decisions, if they’re in the right place. When they pull it up, the reaction you get from the crew, from the captains — as a viewer you’re on pins and needles. Have they invested all this time and effort into putting the pots in the wrong spot? When they pull that one up and it’s full, you can see the unrestrained joy.

MCN: Tell me about the weather.
BH: As winter moves in, it’s predicted to be one of the coldest in memory. The captains are all bracing for sea ice, which they haven’t seen for many seasons, as well as extreme snow. The weather is as extreme as I’ve ever seen it.

But we’ve got better camera equipment. The technology evolves and you can see more at night than you could in past seasons. When the storms hit the boats at night, you’re able to see with your own eyes the size and scale of the Bering Sea versus how small these boats become when they’re getting washed around by 20-, 30-plus-feet waves. It takes this season to a new level.

MCN: Is this the toughest Discovery series to film?
BH: I think that that would be beyond dispute. There may be some people who disagree, but I’ve worked on a lot of shows at Discovery and this is by far the hardest.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.