He’s been all over Alaska working on shows for Discovery Channel, from Iditarod to Deadliest Catch, and now Thom Beers is venturing into another corner of life in the largest state. Bering Sea Gold, on which Beers serves as executive producer, premieres Friday, Jan. 27, at 10pm ET, bringing viewers to the waters just off the coast of Nome, where they’ll see people risk their lives in pursuit of gold on the floor of the sea. It’s a brutal life and one that most people would think you’d have to be out of your mind to pursue. But Beers and his team found approximately 80 boats out there dredging for riches, and from them, found five manned by people with stories worth telling and whose lives are undoubtedly about to change.
Bering Sea Gold has all the hallmarks of a Thom Beers series. “To me, the stuff that I think really works and has worked for us, we’ve got places where people are going, and they’re going for big rewards,” he explains. “But along with big rewards always comes high risk. This place is perfect: It’s high-risk, high-reward, and the third leg of the stool is always, in a really interesting location where you and I will probably never go in our lives. That’s what makes this show work, for me.”
The landscape of Alaska is of obvious fascination for Beers, who has had his own harrowing experiences traversing its wilderness. “Alaska throws stuff at you that you just don’t see coming,” he says. “You don’t know what the risk is, up there. And that’s the weirdest part. You know the craziest thing I did — the riskiest thing I did? I got backed into the Bering Sea and it was 34 degrees. I walked in willingly because I found myself walking along the beach and ran into a pack of dogs. The leader of the pack had just had a number of puppies, and man, she was just this mean-ass pitbull. She bit me a couple of times on the hand. Hard. And I had to walk into the Bering Sea up to my chest so that the dogs couldn’t get to me. That’s the stuff you don’t think about.”
So who goes out in these waters to make their living in this way? (Other than the Deadliest Catch guys, of course.) According to Beers, all sorts. “There’s the guy who’s basically left his family and he’s risking it all — Scott. There’s the big boat — the big corporation, the big barge, and the father-and-son team who normally don’t get along, and the son so much wants to take over for the father.”
This is where Bering Sea Gold is like any other show, in that it’s largely about the interplay between the characters as they battle adversity. In this case, adversity just happens to be the Alaskan elements, the machines they use to do their work, and often each other. “You’re always looking for not only iconic characters, but dynamics within that,” Beers suggests. “The tough guy who left his wife and kids to come up and try and make a living for them — he also is saddled with ‘two complete morons.’ It’s like the fates are against him. … And his frustration is, it’s always somebody else’s fault. That kind of guy. And then there’s another guy who basically left his job as a social worker, working with kids — he left it all behind. Why? Because he was burned out. And obviously he’s a rookie, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so there are a lot of mistakes.”
And then there’s the opera singer. Beers laughs when he talks about the situation aboard The Clark. “You’ve got two characters on there, a young man and a young woman, who basically are out there and they’re trying to get gold, he to pay off debt and she to pay for her opera lessons — she wants to go to Italy and become an opera singer. There’s a great kind of a sexual dynamic, a tension, between the two of them that basically ignites halfway through the series and the whole thing falls to @#$%.”
Like the executive producer he is, Beers has no end of fascination for his project, and he assures that Bering Sea Gold will impress more than anything he’s done before. “This show … it’s epic,” he pronounces. “We have the luxury of working with some of the best people in the business. And all of a sudden we’re making these shows — they look like big, theatrical releases. They’re beautiful. Big helicopter shots, epic sweeping shots … it’s tough-ass work. It’s hard. It was hard for all of us, but I’ve got to tell you — I think this is one of the most compelling, provocative series I’ve ever made in my life. And beautiful.”