Is America ready for another Alaska-based reality TV show about a tough group of blue-collar workers located in a remote part of the state? Well ready or not, here comes “Alaskan Steel Men.”
Set in the community of Kodiak on the massive island of the same name in the Gulf of Alaska, the new series premieres on Discovery Channel on Friday, Aug. 30 and follows the exploits of the employees of Quality Marine of Alaska, a crew of welders and machinists conducting occasionally risky work on fishing fleets and heavy-duty marine equipment.
The cameras follow Dennis Butts, owner of Quality Marine, and the rest of his team as they’re called out to repairs at canneries, stranded fishing vessels and other tricky jobs. The show follows a now-familiar reality TV routine, with a team of rough-around-the-edges workers butting heads with each other and their clients while performing dirty jobs around Alaska.
Reminder of 'Survivor'
Butts said in an interview that the show filmed for about a month earlier this year after he was approached by a production company interested in the work the men were doing. It’s interesting enough, particularly a segment in the premiere episode during which one of the welders goes underwater to cut a chain free from the rudder of a fishing vessel that’s become stranded.
There’s lots of obviously-manufactured drama, as spiking music accentuates moments in the show that are supposed to be tense. The pilot episode also features a bit of “Survivor”-esque elimination competition, as greenhorns Jameson and Dean both approach the end of their 30-day probationary periods (spoiler: they both get hired).
Butts admitted about a week before the show’s debut that he hadn’t yet seen any of the final episodes, and wasn’t sure yet if he’d like to see the series picked up for additional episodes or seasons.
“Depends on what they did with it,” Butts said of the show. “If they make me look like an idiot, I hope it goes away.”
But if it was handled well, he said he was open to more filming.
The show makes Quality Marine look like a busy outfit, and Butts said that part, at least, was true. Despite Kodiak being a prominent fishing community, driven economically by fish and crab fishing, welders are always in high demand in the community and around the state, Butts said.
“We also do other things besides just the fishing vessels,” Butts said. “Boilers, (Department of Transportation) cargo tanks, a lot of work throughout the state.” Several welders recently traveled to Prudhoe Bay on the arctic North Slope and Naknek in Bristol Bay.
Emergency work on Coast Guard cutter
Unfortunately, perhaps one of the most interesting jobs the crew performed during filming won’t likely make it into the show, Butts said. During the January grounding of Shell’s Arctic offshore oil drilling rig Kulluk south of Kodiak, the Quality Marine team was called in to perform boiler repairs on the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley. The cutter ran into trouble while trying to recover the Kulluk after it had been set adrift in the Gulf of Alaska after tow lines securing the rig broke.
Butts said the repairs on the vessel were performed over the space of a weekend, with paperwork expedited and nonstop work needed to get the vessel back underway. Normally, such a fix could take up to a month. But due to restrictions on filming at the Kodiak Coast Guard base, the intense repair work likely won’t make much of an appearance on the program.
The show definitely falls into the same vein as other successful Alaska-based Discovery Channel reality TV programs, including “Deadliest Catch” and the more-recently-popular “Bering Sea Gold.” Whether or not “Alaskan Steel Men” makes the grade -- or fall into the cancelled pile with numerous other Alaska reality shows -- remains to be seen.
The show premieres on Friday, Aug. 31, on the Discovery Channel.
Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com