August 25, 2008

Could You Really Do One of the ‘Toughest Jobs’?

By Gary Strauss

Thom Beers has created a mini-empire with a growing number of cable TV shows focusing on blue-collar, often dangerous professions. Tonight, Beers' testosterone-fueled programming climbs onto broadcast TV with America's Toughest Jobs (NBC, 9 ET/PT).

The first of four NBC series under a development deal with Beers and co-producer Berman/Braun, Toughest Jobs blends the rough-and-tumble occupations featured in such Beers hits as Discovery's Deadliest Catch and History's Ice Road Truckers with a twist: 13 neophytes compete to see who performs best in positions ranging from oil rigger to lumberjack.

The ultimate winner gets the pooled tough-guy job salaries, which Beers values at "well over" $250,000.

"Every time I do a series, I get people telling me they could do that job and (asking) how can they get to do it," says Beers, whose Original Productions has 14 reality shows under contract at eight networks, also including TruTV's Black Gold, History's Ax Men and National Geographic's L.A. Hardhats. "I thought it would be interesting to get people out of their office towers and cubicles and put these jobs in context."

NBC hopes Beers' show, which is inexpensive to produce compared with scripted programming and potentially attractive to advertiser-coveted young male viewers, will fuel a new network franchise. "This is the next evolution of the reality show. What we've done is taken the essence of Thom's shows and added a competition element," says Craig Plestis, NBC's head of alternative programming. "This is about real consequences and real work. If you screw up, you're out."

A familiarity with Beers' cable shows attracted about 4,000 applicants to Jobs. Contestants range from a 22-year-old recent college grad to investment bankers and fashion models whose idea of hard work appears to be confined to aerobics workouts and juggling briefcases and lattes.

"These are people looking for a change and a new life experience," Plestis says. "It's a journey of discovery for a lot of them."

Some of tonight's more comical moments focus on the attempted blue-collar work ethic of Wall Street executive Amy Brodsky, 40, who quickly realizes that the backbreaking work of crab harvesting in freezing Arctic fisheries is far more difficult than she expected.

"This is living life," a sore and dehydrated Brodsky says on tonight's episode. "Going to a Ritz-Carlton spa is not living life."

Beers notes that female competitors "kicked butt" in several episodes. "The women manned up big time -- it's hard to find women in the worlds of fishing and logging."

Judging by some of the criticism levied by real-life crab boat captains tonight, most of the contestants shouldn't have considered quitting their day jobs, although most did make a change after the taping of the 10-episode series.

"Only two went back to what they were doing," says Beers, who has begun filming NBC's next tough-job reality series, Shark Taggers, due next summer. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>