'Deadliest Catch': Thom Beers talks Jake, Josh and Phil Harris family drama
Fans also know that Phil Harris suffered a stroke while off-loading crab in port in St. Paul, Alaska, on Jan. 29, and that it ultimately claimed his life in an Anchorage hospital on Feb. 9, at the age of 53.
A lot happened between Harris and his son in the meantime.
Says executive producer Thom Beers, "When Phil does have his stroke and is in the hospital, there's a real kind of redemption. They get together, like, 'Kid, get your life together.' So that arc ... it's an amazing kind of story."
As the episode opens this Tuesday (June 22), Beers says, "They're back to fishing, and they're back to not talking with each other. There's other drama that goes around the other boats, and this simmers for a little bit. It simmers."
But at the end of the episode, Jake and his older brother, Josh, also a deckhand on the Cornelia Marie, face the shock of their father's stroke.
"There's a lot of dynamic to that," says Beers. "My God, it's intense. Jake is right there, and Josh goes into this weird tailspin. He's staying on the boat, saying, 'I'll take care of the boat while you do this.' Then one of the guys in the boat starts talking to him, 'I lost my old man. You gotta be there.' The drama is amazing.
"We're watching this thing play out in front of us, and it's just raw. Look, it's fascinating, but we didn't cross a line. The whole point is, these guys are heroes, so I'm not going to make them anything less. I don't want to diminish that."
Beers did have to make a lot of tough decisions regarding what to show of Harris' hospital stay, which included brain surgery.
"It ain't pretty," says Beers. "We want to remember Phil as who he was. We want to remember all the dynamic. But at the same time, the guy was insistent, when we were doing this, saying, 'Dude, you've got to. We've got to have an end to the story. You want to film this, film this.'
"The point is, we're just trying to support his wishes, but at the same time, we're losing a good friend. We lost a good friend."
After all, the cameramen and producers on the six seasons of the show have lived with the captains and crews on their boats for months and years at a time, sharing the danger and harsh conditions on the Bering Sea.
"There's a scene," says Beers, "it's not going to be in the show, but I wish it was, where everybody's crossing the line. Literally, the Harris brothers are having a fight, and in the middle of the argument, my cameraman, the producer, drops his camera and says, 'I don't want you guys doing this. Don't do this.'
"What happened in the show is, we've all been so close, and it's family. Geez, it was family."
The announced airing schedule features Harris' passing in the episode airing Tuesday, July 13. It airs at 9 p.m. Eastern, and immediately following at 10 p.m., the companion roundtable show, "After the Catch," features a tribute to Harris in its season finale.
"After" filmed this season in New Orleans (a decision made before Harris' illness and the Gulf oil spill), and the episode includes footage of a jazz funeral held in honor of Harris and an appearance by his two sons.
Then on Tuesday, July 20, following a "Deadliest" episode in which the news of Harris' passing makes its way through the fishing fleet, a special airs, called "Deadliest Catch: Captain Phil Harris Remembered." It features new footage, tributes from the other captains, and remembrances from the second annual CatchCon convention and a public memorial service, both held in Seattle, Wash.
The season finale of "Deadliest Catch" airs the following week.
"Please remember," says Beers, "this is an ensemble show. I'm focusing on four, five other boats. Everybody's facing the end [of opilio crab season]. There's a lot of other drama going on. There's a lot of other drama going on."
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Photo credits: Discovery Channel