Black Gold debuts on truTV tonight, the next of the Deadliest Catch clones

With Discovery’s Deadliest Catch and History’s Ice Road Truckers, producer Thom Beers has defined a new subgenre of reality TV, one that’s perhaps more real than any other subgenre. Essentially, he just points (HD) cameras at people in their natural contexts and then edits the results into enraging narratives. It’s worked so well that other networks are jumping into the action; NBC ordered three shows from Beers, one of which, America’s Toughest Jobs, debuts this fall.

Tonight at 10 p.m., truTV, the network that promises “Not reality. Actuality.” debuts Black Gold, Beers’ latest project. It follows men drilling for oil in Texas. Among those men are Michael “Rooster” McConaughey, Matthew McConaughey’s brother.

truTV VP Marc Juris told USA TODAY that the network ordered the show because “Drilling for oil … is fascinating and dangerous at the same time. When we looked at the characters, the stakes and how relevant this world is, in terms of the role oil plays in our lives, it hit on a lot of emotional targets.”

I’ve seen the first episode, and I’m not yet convinced, and even a bit worried. The particularly awesome thing about Thom Beers’ shows is that they purify reality TV, giving us fascinatingly real people with real stories that take place in real contexts. I’d much rather have TV networks full of his shows instead of, say, the 75th spin-off of Flavor of Love. The tragic part is that the rush to duplicate the success of Deadliest Catch has led to carbon copying the format so fast that it’s getting diluted and risks boring us. And I don’t want to see smart shows like Deadliest Catch get wounded because their format gets cloned poorly (like Bravo did with Project Runway).

Despite the danger, Black Gold starts off a bit too boring, with the narrator having to do too much work. The workers’ jobs are interesting and important, but is it enough to power a whole series? I’m not yet convinced. Not everyone with a dangerous job merits a TV show, which is why Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs works so well: He’s the TV star, and while the people he interacts with can be entertaining, witty, and fun, they disappear in less than an hour, meaning they can’t get boring or uninteresting. The Deadliest Catch captains are mostly all as charismatic as Rowe, as are many members of their crews, which is why it remains so watchable. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Black Gold.

Judge for yourself. Here’s a three-minute excerpt, complete with cliffhanger:

Black Gold [truTV]
‘Black Gold’ drills deep into TV’s tough-guy reality field [USA TODAY]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.