‘Coal’ Mining Show Put Thom Beers and Co. to the Test

SPIKE TV PRESIDENT TALKS EXPANSION MOVES

Thom Beers says it took him three years to find a mining company willing to allow him to come in with his camera team before he was able to start shooting “Coal.”  The latest in the extraordinarily successful producer’s collection of reality shows depicting real-life dangerous jobs (“Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “Black Gold,” etc.), it debuts on Spike tonight.

It’s a doozy.  If you’re disturbed by dark confined places, this is not the show for you.

Thom Beers

“It’s a big scary hole in the ground,” Beers acknowledges.  How did he find a crew willing to go in to shoot the show?  “We start with lobotomies.  No — I’ll tell you what.  This was a particularly tough one, but the guys that do all these programs we make are looking for an adventure, not a paycheck.  These are not guys who are going to whine about meals and travel.  They actually had to do two weeks of training before we started shooting.  You can’t just walk into a mine like this.

“We did kind of a bait and switch on the guys,” he adds.  “At first we were going to do a 64-inch vein of coal, but by the time we made all our deals, it was 34 inches.  That’s 10 weeks on your knees.”

“Coal” showcases a multigenerational assortment of miners and a pair of ex-computer guys who invested their life savings into buying a mine.  Fortunately for Beers, those owners — Mike Crowder and Tom Roberts of West Virginia’s Cobalt Coal — knew his work.  “Our reputation was key to our getting access.  They knew we weren’t there to skewer anyone.  That’s not what we do,” says Beers.

According to him, one of the biggest challenges had nothing to do with physical difficulties: “Getting a West Virginia miner to open his mouth — that’s a very tough job, to get them talking.”  And once they do talk, they’re often hard for non-West Virginia miners to understand.  “We had to rely more heavily on subtitles than we’ve ever done before,” admits Beers.

Kevin Kay

MEANWHILE:  “Coal” marks a new direction for Spike.  “It’s very different for us,” notes Spike TV President Kevin Kay.

Explains the man whose accomplishments include launching “The Ultimate Fighter,” “We have a little bit of a stranglehold on young men, 18 to 34, and we’ve found that young guys are loyal to Spike and want to see Spike succeed.  Older guys, not so much.”  He intends to change those older guys’ minds with “Coal” and other shows that have a broader appeal.  “‘Coal’ is exactly the direction the network wants to be heading,” he says.

Referring to Spike’s raunchiest show, Kay says that much of the impetus toward more diverse programming “came out of focus groups, and hearing from older guys who sometimes felt uncomfortable watching ‘Blue Mountain State’ if their kid was in the room or their wife was in the room.  We were hearing that loud and clear.”

Besides “Coal,” Spike has “Ink Masters” — a reality competition show among tattoo artists — coming up.  “We haven’t seen that before,” points out Kay.  And then there’s “Car Boss,” whose main subject Kay terms “a ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ of car sales….He goes around to all these car dealerships and rejuvenates them.”  Also ahead is a new season of “Auction Hunters,” which already delivers a wider demographic than other Spike shows, including females.  But Spike has no intention of forsaking its manly mandate.

“Spike is for men and the women who love them” says Kay, “and that’s what it should be.  We’re not Oxygen, Bravo or Lifetime.  We’re the opposite of that.”

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This entry was posted in The Hollywood Exclusive by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and tagged , , , on by .

About Stacy Jenel Smith

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley when it was a kids' Shangri La in the 60s and we had Fabulous Eddie's miniature golf and trampolines on Ventura Boulevard. My big brother frequented The Third Eye psychedelic shop back in the day, but he wound up turning out anyway. Dad was an NBC video man who worked on "Laugh-In," Dean Martin's show, and specials by everyone from Sinatra to Fred Astaire. Mom was a first class home maker and PTA and GCA volunteer. They're still doing great. Anxious to get going in life, I quit college and jumped into journalism when I was still a teenager, and was writing for the New York Times syndicate and People magazine before turning 20. But that was a long time, many adventures, lots of traveling around the world and thousands of interviews ago. I go back to the very last days of hot type and getting to talk to Henry Fonda and Bette Davis, and Sammy Davis at the old Brown Derby...What a ride. That's in no small part thanks to my amazing writing partner, Marilyn Beck, one of the grand old-school Hollywood columnist stars -- a true star -- who knows how to do it right. I'm lucky, for sure. Now is fun, too. I love going out to events with my 17-year-old daughter (Jonas Brothers!). Seeing everything fresh through her eyes renews my excitement about the game. In-between I went back and finished school -- University of Redlands -- married, divorced, and at long last found my true love. My favorite things outside of the show business realm are being with my family, my faith and spiritual growth, learning new things (from doing Qigong to uploading stuff on Facebook), and running. See you on the trail.

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