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.
“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.
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.”