One of the tried and true ways of expanding the brand of a successful non-scripted TV series is with what I like to call the "somewhat spin-off." The network creates a show that might feature some of the cast from a hit show, but they're now working at a new location or in a different time of the year. So the "Ice Road Truckers" suddenly make the move from Canada to Alaska or the folks at "Bering Sea Gold" suddenly are doing two separate shows: one each for the summer and winter seasons.
NatGeo has an entry of their own in this category with the premiere this week of the new series "Wicked Tuna: North Vs. South." The parent show centers around the exploits of some tuna fisherman based out of Gloucester, Mass. Following a tough season of fishing, several of the boats decided to take the five-hour cruise south to try their luck at bluefin fishing off the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Anytime you see a show like this, the natural question is whether these boats and their crews would have made the move if there weren't cameras around to capture the action. Based on comments from the local crews, Captain TJ Ott and the Hot Tuna have fished in the area in previous years, but it's not clear why the other crews are there, other than the fact that they can make a bit of money and also star in a TV show.
All of this matters in this case because the bluefin tuna season in the Outer Banks is brutally short. The quota is 23 tons total, which translates to about 200 total fish for the fleet. Given that, it makes sense to suspect that the southern fisherman who aren't in the show might not be that thrilled by the prospect of new boats entering the extremely competitive season.
That having been said, "Wicked Tuna: North Vs. South" does offer up some fascinating facts along the way. The way they catch tuna is very different than the method used in Gloucester. The producers also did a nice job of finding some compelling southern fisherman to follow around in the premiere season.
But as much as I like the show, I still find myself uneasy watching it. While they're not in the premiere episode, Pin Wheel captain Tyler McLaughlin will be showing up next week, and he'll have a new temporary co-captain in Paul Hebert of the Wicked Pissah. It's one of those moves that seems to be better fitted to building tension on-camera than accomplishing anything in the water and it feels forced. Dave Marciano's Hard Merchandise makes more sense, particularly given the season they had this year up north.
I can't say that "Wicked Tuna: North Vs. South" is any amazing feat of television, but if you enjoy the original, you'll probably enjoy this series nearly as much. Some of the storylines might seem a bit far-fetched, but the action is compelling and it's a great look at a different approach to tuna fishing.
"Wicked Tuna: North Vs. South" premieres Sunday, August 17th, 2014 on the National Geographic Channel.