March 25, 2015
So, I haven’t really done much in the way of TV reviews lately. Part of it is, as I have mentioned previously, I’m getting pretty frustrated trying to find something that I either haven’t already seen (so many repeats, so little time), something I want to see (I won’t watch fishing, I seldom watch turkey hunting, and I don’t care to watch waterfowl shooting), or avoiding the stuff that just insults my intellect (“reality” shows). I know the networks are looking to diversify their programming, but I really wish they were looking in a different direction.
I’ve heard a number of folks say that they could do a “better” show than much of what they see on the air today (and I’m sure some of them could… hell, a syphilitic lemur could do better than some of the crap that’s on there). Others envy the producers and on-screen talent for these “dream” jobs, and there are a lot of fantasies about what it must be like. I know a little about what goes into making outdoors TV, but I think no one could speak better to the subject than Randy Newberg. So, here he is:
March 2, 2015
Well, last week wasn’t especially productive when it comes to updates to the Hog Blog, and for that I have little to say. Real life. Deadlines. This is not what I get paid to write. That other stuff is.
There’s another reason I haven’t had much in the way of updates, at least in regards to hook-n-bullet TV reviews. I just haven’t been watching.
Here’s the thing. I’ve already gone on, at length, about the current trend of “reality” shows on the major outdoors networks. Seriously, if I flip on the Outdoor Channel most weeknights after work, it seems like there’s nothing on except repeats of those same, awful programs. I know there must be something else mixed in there, but I’m not willing to sit through the crap to wait for it.
But there’s another thing, and I should probably have called this out when I first started doing these reviews. There are a handful of things I just won’t watch, especially not for free. Those things include the following:
- Fishing shows – with the extremely rare exception of some bluewater fishing, I just don’t find anything at all interesting about watching someone else fish. It’s the outdoors TV equivalent of golf, except maybe a little bit cooler because, at least they’re fishing.
- Gun Nuts TV – I have occasionally tuned in to watch American Airgunner, which was pretty interesting when I started to learn more about air gun hunting. But I’m not interested in the technical/tactical stuff. You wanna bring some ARs and such over to my house with unlimited ammo, hell yeah, I’m happy to help you shoot those things. But if you just want to stand there and tear them down and talk about the specs before firing a mag or two into a stationary target at 7 yards… I think I’d rather watch fishing. I won’t even mention the shows that are nothing more than infomercials for the gunmaker of the week. As far as the more politically oriented gun programs, I don’t have time in my life for the rhetorical hyperbole. I get that there actually are some folks out there who think taking the guns out of civilian hands is actually a good idea. I get that there are a lot of misguided efforts to control crime by controlling legally owned and possessed firearms. I get that someone has to stand counter to those efforts, and that it’s a hot, political topic. But most of these shows are like slightly toned down versions of Puff Blowhard (AKA Rush Limbaugh). I’m a pretty staunch advocate of the 2nd Amendment and its associated tenets, but I’m not going to turn on my TV and listen to these guys yell at me (and I’m sure as hell not going to turn on my TV to watch a talk radio show).
- Long Range Hunting – I’ve had my say about long range hunting before, and I probably will again. It’s not that I’m opposed to the experts doing it. I’m opposed to selling the idea that your average Joe Blow, sitting home with the remote in one hand and a Cabela’s catalog in the other can do it too. Because he probably can’t. Most Joe Blows I’ve known couldn’t hit the kill zone on a Yukon moose at 300 yards from a bench rest. They sure as hell shouldn’t be trying to whack a mule deer at 1000 from a rock. But that’s not the reason I won’t watch it. I won’t watch it because I’m just not that impressed with the idea, and big, damned whoop… with $7500 worth of rifle and optics, backed up by two spotters and a camera crew, you can hit a 16″ target at 900 yards (most of the time). It just happens that, instead of a steel gong, your target is the kill zone on a living animal.
- Bird hunting, including turkeys – OK, truthfully, I’ll watch some of these guys from time to time. A few of the turkey hunting episodes are relatively educational, and I can always stand to learn something new. But beyond that, I just don’t feel the appeal. And when it comes to wingshooting programs, by the time you’ve gone through the first flurry of action, I’m done. The next 20 minutes will be pretty much lather, rinse, repeat.
This is just me, by the way. If you like these things, more power to you.
I know that, not that long ago, I could turn on the TV on a week night and pretty much keep myself entertained for a couple of hours, flipping between Pursuit, Sportsman Channel, and the Outdoor Channel. But now, it seems like I can barely watch the Outdoor Channel at all (except when Lee and Tiffany are on). And I guess it’s just the time of year, but the stuff I really like to watch, even if I am going to critique it, isn’t getting a lot of airtime. I know the big game seasons are largely over, but there’s got to be something going on. Let’s go shoot some hogs. Do some exotics hunts. Take me to Africa. And, for gosh sake, if you’re going to show reruns (because I know you have to), at least don’t show the exact same ones over and over.
Maybe I’m just burned out already… but that, in itself, may be an indication that the outdoors programming is beginning to fall short. I don’t know. Is it just me? What are you guys watching these days?
February 9, 2015
When did this happen?
When did I miss the Discover-ization of the Outdoor Channel?
I get that there’s so much sameness in the hook-n-bullet TV industry that viewers are looking for that next, new thing. How many times can you watch a fairly generic hunter, perched in a tree stand, pump his fist in the camera after slinging an arrow into a P&Y whitetail buck? How many times can you hear some guy, covered from head to toe in sponsor logos, say, “man, that’s a nice fish!”
There have been some diversions, of course. Randy Newberg’s Fresh Tracks program brings us real, public land, DIY, hunting for real game… as opposed to the guided (or at least carefully directed by the landowner/outfitter), private land, hunts for supplement-fed, heavily managed, often high-fenced and always trophy-quality critters we see in so many programs. And Pig Man burst onto the scene with something no one had ever really seen before by focusing on wild hogs, not as an off-season distraction but as the focal point of his show. He veered somewhat toward the mainstream for a while there, but with the newest season, Brian Quaca and team seem to be back in their full glory, doing what they do best.
Jim Shockey brought out Uncharted, which is a pretty cool look at hunting exotic locales and an honest effort to take the time to focus on the people of these far away places. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, when it comes to the script, the prose tends toward purple, and the delivery often feels forced, especially when they’re trying to impart either solemnity or grandeur. But it also feels sort of real… not polished lines created by professional writers… and sometimes I like that. I haven’t really seen anything else quite like it, although Where in the World is Colorado Buck had a similar concept and approach. Unfortunately for ol’ Colorado, I don’t think he scored with the viewers (and heavy-hitting sponsors) quite like Jim Shockey. The nature of the business…
Steve Rinella takes us on great hunts and fishing trips, with the constant focus on how those hunts turn into great eats (most of the time). And yeah, Scott Leysath, the Sporting Chef, has been singing a similar song to Rinella for longer, but his show tends to come across more like a well-produced, PBS cooking program than outdoors television… at least to me.
But it seems like, for every one of these shows, there are three more retakes on the hunting couple motif you see in Driven, with Pat and Nicole, or The Crush with Lee and Tiffany (and I often enjoy both, partly because, and I’m just gonna say it… Tiffany Lakosky is cute as a freckle on a bunny rabbit’s nose!).
Along with it come a whole slew of efforts to recreate the concept (and staggering success) of Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector, by some group of guys who seem to think it’s cool to merge the Thug Life with the X-games to turn the hunt into some sort of adrenaline-charged frat party, talking constantly about “hit lists” and assassinations. This model seems particularly heavily used by waterfowl hunting shows, where constant carnage seems to be the entire raison d’etre.
Hell, even the “take a vet hunting” programs have really exceeded the saturation point. I am proud of our vets, as well as our actively serving men and women. I’m extremely glad to know that organizations like Tim Abell’s Grateful Nation, are out there doing things like this for the vets as a show of support and thanks for their sacrifices. But there’s only so many times you can see it before the impact sort of wears off. Am I jaded? Well, yeah. But I think the point is valid.
I guess some of this makes sense, and is probably to be expected. Outdoor television is still toddling along, barely out of its infancy. Successful program models are still in fairly short supply, and a host of contenders are vying for a relatively small pool of sponsors. Folks are going to emulate success. Innovation is risky, and in a field with so many people struggling to get in, few people will be willing to take those risks. It takes time to create real diversity, especially when the subject matter (or genre) is pretty narrow.
With all this in mind, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see these guys, particularly the Outdoor Channel, turn to the pseudo-reality genre for ideas. Even if you live under a rock, odds are pretty good you know something about the success of the Duck Commanders. Who wouldn’t want to cash in on the next Robertson family? But if I’m not surprised, I’m a little disappointed.
It may have started incrementally, while I wasn’t paying much attention. I remember when they launched Wardens, which was a little interesting at first, but it’s waned a bit as they’re running a little short of exciting material. You can only watch so many guys get ticketed for failing to properly tag an animal, or watch a couple of yo-yos get badgered until they trip over their stories and end up confessing to some minor infraction. At best, the show can be sort of compelling. At its worst, I get annoyed or bored and change the channel. Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced much of an in-between, and there’s been a lot of channel changing of late.
Another one they rolled out a little while back was Fight to Survive. For any long-time Outdoor Life readers, do you recall the illustrated feature each month, This Happened to Me? I usually read these, especially as a kid, because they were short and quick. Even when they weren’t particularly exciting, I didn’t mind the minute and a half it took to knock one out. Now, imagine those same stories stretched out over the course of a half hour, complete with hyper-dramatic narration, sappy music, and cliff-hanger commercial breaks. I mean, yeah, I’m impressed that some of these guys survived the stuff they did, and of course each one is a cautionary tale to other outdoorsmen. But really, I’m not going to give it a half hour of my day.
It was hard to miss the hype for Flying Wild Alaska, their reality show about a family-run, Alaskan bush pilot service. I mean, really? This is straight out of Discovery or NatGeo (the channel that doesn’t even deserve the full title, National Geographic), and from my brief introduction, it’s every bit as bad as anything we saw from those networks. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m absolutely sick of manufactured drama. Sure, being a bush pilot is probably pretty cool and laced throughout with excitement and adventure. I’ve read some accounts that are purely hair-raising, and when they happened, if there had been a camera aboard, it would probably make for some really captivating footage. But I get the feeling that the folks who watch this are like the folks watching NASCAR or bull riding… it’s all about the possibility of a good wreck. Unfortunately, if you think about it, a serious wreck on Flying Wild probably isn’t going to end up on your TV. Instead, you get lots of hyperactive narration, loaded with “what-if” and something that probably serves as tension and suspense… if you’re an eight year-old.
But then, here’s where I really had to scratch my head. Seriously, The Reluctant Outdoorsman? Ostensibly, this is an office staffer from the Network who has no experience in the outdoors.. whatsoever. Even if you buy the premise, it’s a stretch to imagine this being anything more than predictable. But buying the premise is a tough sell, especially when you watch this guy’s total incompetence at everything he attempts. In the real world, if this guy were truly a nincompoop of this level, he wouldn’t be able to get a job at McDonalds… much less at a television network. Nobody is this clueless… and I’ve taken a lot of first timers into the field. I was going to watch it again, just to see if the first time was just a bad experience… but halfway through, I flipped the channel.
Oh, and while it looks like the Outdoor Channel is really banking on this programming trend, I can’t lay it all at their doorstep.
Many years ago, when I lived at the beach, there was a little housekeeping company where the maids actually showed up in skimpy outfits (and reportedly, would remove certain additional items of clothing for the homeowner if he showed the appropriate level of appreciation). This is what sprang immediately to mind when I saw the sizzle reel for the Sportsman Channel program, Hog Dawgs. If you haven’t seen this, well, just take a glance at the website. The big photo on the home page really does tell you everything you need to know. Yupp… sexy chicks, often scantily clad in ripped t-shirts or tank tops, ostensibly working for a hog eradication company down in Florida. I honestly didn’t even want to watch this show. But hey, I can’t review it if I don’t watch it. So I did.
I’m not an expert at feral hog eradication, but I know a little (and I am acquainted with some real experts). One thing that’s pretty sure is that chasing and catching two or three hogs on a property is not eradication. That’s sport hunting. And slender, shapely girls doing it in tight jeans and t-shirts… well, that’s posing for the camera. I don’t know these women (or their management) in the real world, and maybe they really are good at what they say they do… but what I saw on that half-hour of programming convinced me that there’s only one reason for this show… and it’s not to solve the hog problem in Ocala, FL.
I often feel like I’m missing something when I see the popularity of “reality” TV these days. I don’t understand the allure at all (even if the allure is sexy chicks getting sweaty and muddy), but folks seem to be watching. Maybe the Outdoor Channel is on to something. But as a viewer who does enjoy good outdoors programming, I hope this is a passing phase… just part of the growing pains of a new network in a new genre. Because if this is here to stay, I’ll be hanging up my remote.
December 19, 2014
I have been on the road all weekend, and have had personal business the first half of this week. As a result, not only have I had limited opportunity to update the Hog Blog, I haven’t watched much in the way of horn porn either.
But never fear… with a new season coming down the pike, I’m seeing some promising opportunities. One that looks particularly good (so far) is coming to the Sportsman Channel. The show is called, Border to Border, and is hosted by Mike Schoby.
The premise is that Schoby, and apparently some guest hosts along the way, will load up his truck and camping gear, and spend the next 45 days hunting and fishing across the country from New Mexico to Alaska. All of the hunting and fishing will be DIY (do-it-yourself), without guides or fancy accommodations.
I like the idea, and the trailer suggests that there’ll be some top-rate camera work as well. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to catch the premier episode on Sunday, 12/12/14 (at 21:00 eastern). Here’s the trailer. Check it out for yourself.
December 9, 2014
That post title ought to get some hits…
I’m jammed up a dozen ways from Monday right now, so I need to make this quick. Apologies, if you were hoping for more.
I haven’t really seen much in the way of programs the last few days that really made me want to write about them. Some of this is due to personal distraction, but some of it is because this is apparently the time of year for endless reruns (or maybe I’m not tuning in at the right times). But what I have seen, far, far too much of, is commercials. And a recurrent theme in these commercials seems to be lying… to your buddies, your family, and your spouse.
Now, I recognize that outdoorsmen are not always the very paragons of honesty. We’re known to tell a tale, here and there, and storytelling isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s one thing when we’re sitting around the campfire and letting that 100 yard, gimme shot become 250 yards, offhand. Or if we’re tipping one back and telling about that fish that, miraculously, continues to get bigger years after its demise. And, lord knows, don’t ask a fellow hunter for his “secret spot”, because you will almost certainly find yourself slipping through the woods a hundred miles in the wrong direction.
But it bugs me, just a little (because it’s also sort of humorous) to see these commercials where folks just outright lie to people who, ostensibly, should trust them… particularly when it’s the hunter/fisherman, lying to his spouse.
Case in point… this commercial for Limbsaver’s Airtech recoil pad:
Now, I get that this is supposed to be a humorous depiction, and on a certain (base) level it is. Lord knows variations of this theme have been the fodder of comedians for ages. And probably, that’s part of the issue I have with it. It’s a tired joke.
While the paradigm of outdoorsMAN and the houseWIFE certainly persists, aren’t we moving beyond that now? Or shouldn’t we be? Wives and girlfriends hunt with many of us. The industry, slow as it may be, is making strides to be more inclusive. The hook-n-bullet media have produced piles of lip service to the idea of making the outdoors more welcoming to women… not only as an inducement for those who will to join us, but to demonstrate to those who don’t hunt that outdoorsmen aren’t all a bunch of evolutionary throwbacks, operating on brute impulse.
But then, I could be wrong.
December 2, 2014
We have to remember that the hook-n-bullet TV genre is still an evolving form, right? I mean, it’s still far from perfect and we have to give it room to grow. We have to be patient while programming finds its pace, and while the shows establish their unique brand. Right? Or am I being a little too magnanimous?
I think some of the shows are pretty much there.
Realtree Road Trips is one example of a program that’s been pretty finely tuned. But then, it ought to be. Michael Waddell and the crew have been consistent favorites for several years now, and they’ve managed to put together a solid team, from the faces of the show that include Waddell, Travis “T-Bone” Turner, and Nick Mundt, to the production quality and videography. Regardless of what you may think about the content (heavy on whitetail and turkey hunts), there’s little doubt that this is a professional operation.
One of the things that makes the show work for so many fans is the natural interplay between Waddell, Turner, and Mundt. They manage to make you feel like you’re watching a bunch of buddies, from clubhouse antics to competitive ribbing. It seldom feels forced or scripted (even though we know it has to be… to a point). Waddell plays the “good ol’ boy” like a natural (which he is), without coming off as an ignorant hick. There’s a very good reason he’s become the standard bearer for Realtree. He’s got the clean-cut, boy-next-door looks, and he’s well-spoken with a Southern accent.
Turner is the closest thing to a caricature you’ll find on the team… the large, lovable lug. Still, while I’ve never had the pleasure of spending real time with him, I think the role is a genuine reflection of the man. There’s more there than meets the eye as well. Turner is a championship archer (former World Outdoor 3-D champion). He’s also a pretty inspiring guy. When I first saw T-Bone on TV, he was weighing in the neighborhood of 540 pounds. In 2004, he underwent gastric bypass surgery, and since then has whittled away over 200 pounds of excess weight. He’s still a damned big guy (at 6’3″, he can’t help but be), but I know for a fact that even with surgery, managing that sort of weight loss takes a huge dose of fortitude.
And like any well-cast TV show, Nick Mundt completes the gang as the pretty-boy, smart ass. Again, though, he’s not just a character. If you watch him in the field, he’s a deadly serious hunter. Off the field, you get the feeling that he’d crack wise whether there are cameras around or not. It’s just how he is, and it’s probably the reason he found his way onto the team.
Another point that makes the show work, at least for me, is that these guys show a lot of respect for the hunt. At the end of an episode, I come away with the feeling that these guys are professionals, even if they’re having a blast doing what they love.
There’s a difference between clowning around and being a clown.
As an example, I offer the newest “outdoors reality program” from A&E… Country Bucks.
I’ve watched the Busbice family on the Outdoor Channel’s Wildgame Nation, and I’ll be honest, I’ve had mixed feelings. There’ve been times when I couldn’t help but laugh. But there are other times when I just shake my head at the obviously contrived action… usually centered on some kind of family conflict (Bill Busbice and his sons are the “stars” of the show). Seriously, it gets old… especially when there’s way more back and forth between the personalities than there is actual hunting. And of course, the entire show is a blatant, extended plug for their Wildgame Innovations products. They’re constantly spraying something in the air, dumping something on the ground, or fiddling around with various gadgets. It’s not a terrible show, as hunting shows go, but it’s not all that good.
I recently watched the screener for Country Bucks (my new motto, “I watch this shit so you don’t have to“), and let’s just lay this on the table… it was 21 minutes and 29 seconds worth of sad. It is, literally, nothing less than a formulaic copy of Duck Dynasty.
There’s a “redneck” family that has built an empire on hunting gear, in this case, the Busbice clan own and operate Wildgame Innovations. There’s a family compound (instead of the factory floor) where the cast and celebrity guests come together for “hilarious hijinks”. You could interchange the Busbices with the Robertsons and get the exact same results. For example, in the screener episode, there’s a situation where one of the sons has to remove a huge “deer block” (it’s a long story and really not worth retelling). After a couple of stupid ideas that fail, the final option is to blow it up… with predictably sensational results. Compare this to the episode of Duck Dynasty (one of the only episodes I was willing to watch) where the Robertson boys have to get rid of a beaver dam. If you guessed that, after a few ridiculous ideas didn’t pan out, they blew it to pieces… well, you get the prize.
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it later… I’m sick to death of these “let’s laugh at the hicks” programs… especially when the folks on the shows are hardly “hicks”. Bill Busbice has an estimated, net worth in excess of $100 million. Phil Robertson’s $15 million net worth may seem to pale beside Busbice, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. You don’t amass that kind of money by being an ignorant redneck, no matter how often you portray one on TV.
With that in mind, for the Busbice family, this show will equate to some very serious business… at least if Duck Dynasty is any kind of indicator. Getting a program like this off of the hunting networks and onto something more “mainstream” like A&E is definitely going to boost brand recognition, and that’s going to add up to sales. If they’re able to spin off even a fraction of the merchandising that the Duck Dynasty crew have done, there’s a fortune there as well. You can’t turn around in any retail setting without seeing one of those bearded faces grinning back at you. So kudos are due the Busbice guys, for a shrewd business maneuver.
But, me? I won’t be watching.
November 20, 2014
The Outdoor Channel’s Golden Moose Awards is the first outdoors TV award show I ever attended, many years ago at SHOT (I believe we were in Orlando). At the time, RMEF and Budweiser were key sponsors and there was free Bud for everyone in attendance. There was a small, country band (I think they may have been locals) that took the stage after a little bit of speechifying and a small selection of awards were handed out. The doors were open to all SHOT Show participants, and Outdoor Channel reps were on the Show floor, eager to pass out the invitations. I don’t recall which venue the event was held at, but it wasn’t all that big. There was a good crowd, though, because anytime you say, “free beer,” at an event full of hunters and gun nuts, well, you can imagine what’s going to happen. All in all, as small as it was, it had the feeling of something on the verge of building some serious momentum.
Compare that scene, to the selective, invitation-only, packed house of the last couple of years. Attendees have recently been treated to performances by major artists like Ted Nugent, Aaron Tippen, and Blake Shelton. The list of awards has grown so large that they barely have time to get them all through. The last couple of times I was able to eke out a ticket (no small feat for a small-timer like me), I found myself at the Hard Rock Café where the network had taken over a major portion of the bar and performance stages. There was a full bar, hot food, and shoulder-to-shoulder outdoor celebrities, PR staff, producers, and sponsors. I’ve never been to the Emmy Awards, and of course the Golden Moose awards is only a single network with nowhere near the cachet of Hollywood, but this scene was pretty damned impressive. We’ve come a long way, baby.
For what it’s worth, the Sportsman Channel awards event has become a bit of a juggernaut too. There’s no question that some significant money is starting to trickle through the outdoor TV business.
Anyway, if you’re inclined, go vote for your favorite shows and hosts. And then stay tuned in January, as the winners are announced. If I’m lucky, maybe this year I can weasel my way in and provide some first hand accounting of the doings.
November 17, 2014
I just realized I went through last week without a TV review post. Mea culpa.
OK, I’m over it.
So here, to start your week, is a quick one.
First of all, for viewers of the Sportsman Channel, it’s time to vote for your favorite shows, hosts, and a handful of other awards. The winners will be announced at the 2015 SHOT Show in January. Click the image below to go vote, or you can paste in this URL: http://www.thesportsmanchannel.com/vote/
On a related note, I’ve recently become a reluctant “fan” of one of the Sportsman Channel programs, Gun It, with Benny Spies.
When I first saw this program, I have to say I didn’t care much for it. The host, Benny Spies, came across as sort of a smart jerk, pretending to be a redneck clown. I didn’t (and still don’t) know much about this guy, but I get the feeling he’s a lot smarter than he lets on. According to his bio, he’s carrying around a couple of college degrees and some significant experience in the TV industry. So when he’s acting the clown, I get the feeling he’s laughing in his sleeve… sort of like Larry the Cable Guy, milking the stereotype dry with his fake southern accent and redneck act.
Honestly (if you couldn’t tell), I’ve got sort of a problem with the perpetuation of the dumbass hick stereotype. “Redneck,” has always been an insult in my mind, and a fairly harsh one. I know a lot of folks who are country as the day is long, and I hate that a large segment of the U.S. thinks they’re all ignorant, hyper-religious rednecks. From time to time, I get a little country too. Here’s a tip, folks. Just because we talk slow, it doesn’t mean we are slow… well, not all of us anyway.
But this is TV. It’s entertainment, targeted to the lowest common denominator. If, as a viewer, you manage your expectations with this in mind, some TV makes a lot better sense and can even be a little bit of fun. And that’s the case with Gun It with Benny Spies.
So I watched a few episodes, and it sort of started to grow on me. First of all, his hick shtick is not the only game he has. I actually like that many of the episodes are about Spies going outside his comfort level to try some hunting or fishing experience he’s never had. He’s game, and he doesn’t always come out with limits or trophies. On an episode down in Texas, he goes on his first hog hunt. I’m not sure how he got set up with the “guide” who took him out, but things were looking pretty desperate. In the end, after enlisting a little guiding help, he finally manages a small, meat hog for his troubles. I can’t imagine the lengths they went to in order to get the payoff for that episode, but it came across as real.
The episode that finally sold me, though, was a recent one called Benny, Bullwinkle, and a Guide Named Steve. I don’t know how, outside of phenomenal luck, but Spies drew a Shiras moose tag in Wyoming. Throughout the episode, I was fairly impressed by how “real” everything was. The guide was a character, as was the outfitter. The hunt was about what I’d expect, right down to leveraging intelligence from the Spanish sheepherders to locate Benny’s bull. What showed through, though; for all of his usual façade of “hickness”, Spies took the whole thing pretty seriously… even with a level of humility. You could tell that he recognized what a big deal it was to get a once-in-a-lifetime draw like that.
I’m sure that Benny Spies will annoy me again before long. Even my favorite show hosts occasionally do something that gets on my nerves. But I generally come back for more.
Check it out for yourself sometime. I can’t promise you’ll like it too, but I think there’s some quality there.
November 7, 2014
First of all, you guys fail.
I don’t expect a ton of participation from the bots and crawlers that make up the bulk of my site traffic, but I sort of figured some human out there must read, and care enough to think we could come up with a better title for the TV review posts. But what did I get? Nada. So I came up with something myself.
See what you get? That’ll teach you… or not.
This week, it’s all about self-awareness. Well, self-awareness, and a few other things. But we’ll start with the easy one.
Mossy Oak produces and sponsors a bunch of TV shows. That’s no surprise, since the company has become one of the monsters of the industry. Like their chief competitor, RealTree, these former camo companies have blown up to dominate everything from product branding to outdoor-oriented real estate. Just the other day, I got a press release about a new set of ear buds, branded by Mossy Oak and JBL. No, really. Ear buds. For your portable music player or game machine, or whatever.
It’s also no surprise that, on their programs, folks wear a lot of camo. That’s just what you do when a camo company is footing the tab for your hunt, your gear, and in some cases, signing your paycheck. So, for example, the other day on Mossy Oak’s Hunting the Country program, they had a bunch of folks hunting whitetails down in Texas. It was chilly (for Texas), and every hunter was garbed, head-to-toe, in Mossy Oak camo. I don’t recall the pattern. There are so many now, who can keep up? The point is, everyone was pretty well outfitted with some great camo.
And then they loaded up and drove out to their box blinds.
So, generally, this is a small thing. Of course, we all know that you don’t need camo if you’re hunting from a shooting house. (Personally, I don’t think you need camo at all to hunt big game with a rifle, but that’s neither here nor there.) But I don’t really care if you choose to wear it anyway. Still, there’s a sort of irony in the voiceover pointing out that the hunters are geared up in their Mossy Oak camo, and the implication that this will somehow help them to be successful on this hunt. Because it won’t. As a viewer, I couldn’t help thinking that these guys could be wearing Speedos and Hawaiian shirts for all the difference it would make.
The only reason I picked this particular episode of this particular program, by the way, is because it’s the one I was watching when it struck me to pick up my notepad and jot it down. The phenomenon itself is endemic across the genre. Whether it’s Mossy Oak hunting in Texas, Real Tree in Missouri, or the Under Armor guys in Alabama, you watch them promote the camo clothing and then climb into an enclosed stand to shoot deer at 100 yards or more. It’s mildly off-putting because these guys, as professional hunters, have to know that the camo makes no difference in that situation. At the very least, they could drop a comment now and then to let us know they recognize what we’re all saying. Where’s the self-awareness?
What would be cool, by the way, is if one of these companies would produce and promote a new pattern just for the shooting house hunter… sort of like the guys hunting from ground blinds who have adopted black hoodies to blend into the black interior of the blind. Now that makes sense. Not sure what this shooting house pattern would look like, although I’d imagine something like rough grains of CDX plywood. You can get Plain-ol-Pine®, or you can go for the gusto and get the Marine Grade Green® pattern. For the upscale hunter, maybe something like Beaded Birch Paneling®, or Fiberglass Grey®.
I had another topic, but this literally just came up…
I follow the hunting channels (Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, and Pursuit) on Facebook. In addition to getting previews and notices about upcoming new shows and episodes, they also share clips, photos and tidbits from the various programs and celebrity hunters. And, of course, they do contests. It’s usually a reasonably good balance of promotion and entertainment. But this morning, as I popped over to say good morning to Kat (she’s in Raleigh, I’m in Texas), I caught a new post from The Outdoor Channel. It was a full-length ad for a product that has nothing to do with the Outdoor Channel or any of the programs that air there. There wasn’t even any context to link back to the programming or the network itself. Just an ad.
To say the least, I was taken aback.
Isn’t this a little much? Logically, of course, I recognized the utility of what they were doing. I expect there’s good money to be made by extending your advertisers’ exposure from the TV network to social media. It seems pretty efficient, in a business sense, I think. Of course, I’m definitely no businessman.
No, what I see here is overreach.
I understand that the whole reason a corporation establishes a social media presence is for self-promotion. The hunting channels advertise themselves and their programming via these channels, and it’s pretty successful. In addition to exposure, it provides a certain amount of interactivity for the viewers and that establishes a deeper, personal investment. It creates a sense of ownership and connection. You know, the psychology of marketing and all that.
And maybe that’s why this advertisement thing shook me a little. To me (and maybe I’m just weird), it felt a little too exploitative. It was a violation of my trust because, well, social media is personal. This is the same platform I use to communicate with my circle of friends and my loved ones. I let the Outdoor Channel into that circle, and here they’re going to pollute this place by running ads? At the very least, it’s disappointing.
I’m hoping this was just an experiment on the part of the Outdoor Channel’s social networking team, and that they will reconsider the practice. Like most viewers of the hunting channels, I already feel a little over-saturated with advertising and product placement during the course of regular programming. I generally watch it anyway. But if the ads start to extend to the social network sites as well, then that’s going to be too bad. Personally, I know I’ll stop following the feeds and I expect a fair number of other folks will do the same.
As I said before, I’m no businessman. But it seems to me that there’s a cost-benefit consideration here. I would think that the Outdoor Channel brings in enough advertising revenue through its regular channels that it would be able to justify running social media campaigns as overhead… a marketing expense. If so, then alienating viewers by pushing ads to social media would be somewhat counterproductive.
But maybe that’s just me.
October 27, 2014
OK, first things first… I need a better heading for these reviews. This one is boring.
So here’s a thought… I have a handful of copies of The Complete Guide to Wild Hog Field Care from my friend, Ron Gayer’s, The Guide’s Guide to Hunting series. If someone recommends a new heading for the TV reviews, and I like it enough to use it, I’ll send you out a copy. Or, if you prefer, I also have a copy of another one from Ron’s series: From the Bench to the Field: Guns and Optics.
Hell. Give me a real winner, and I’ll send you both.
That’s done… other topics.
I’ve been sort of blessed in my life with the ability to, usually, take almost any topic and write about it. Sometimes it comes out better than others, but I seldom find myself completely stumped. I mean, really, it’s pretty much how I’ve made my living for the past 22 years. But since I decided to start writing about hunting TV shows, I suddenly find myself really challenged.
It’s not that there’s nothing to say, of course. When Kat was here, we’d often get a running commentary about the programming or the commercials… and oftentimes, we go on about both (of course, we did that with most programs, not just hunting shows). It’s also easy to sit down and be really critical, in a negative way. But as I mentioned in the first place, I don’t want this to just be a litany of negativity. Not that I want to hold back all the time, because I’ve got some choice things to say that I believe really need to be said. But to sit down and pick out a topic for a weekly post… well, it’s got to be more than nitpicking about long distance shooting, unsafe firearm handling, or shilling products at the expense of programming content. There should be some substance, and some sort of theme. I mean, as readers of this site, what would you like to see?
Also, I’m relatively low-tech, right now. Otherwise, I’d love to pull snippets and do voice-over commentary, or show you a piece of an episode in context. That should be manageable in this medium, but I’m just getting my feet wet and not sure I want to jump all the way in. As this thing goes, I hope to at least start providing links to episodes online (when they’re available), so if I spike your interest you can go see what I’m on about. But for now… well, it’s mostly just going to be words. And just this minute, I’m struggling to come up with those.
But the only way to it is to do it.
As a consumer of hunting and outdoors TV, there are some things you sort of have to make your peace with.
First, the hunt is almost always going to end in success.
I have actually heard people complain about this. “It’s not like real hunting. They’re always successful. And it’s always a trophy-quality animal.”
Yeah. It’s true. But here’s the thing.
Nobody wants to watch a hunting show where nothing gets shot. You can have all the bigger-than-life personalities in the world, but folks tune into these shows for a specific outcome. To poorly paraphrase Jose Ortega y Gassset, “one does not watch hunting TV in order to see a kill. One sees a kill, in order to know he has watched hunting TV.”
OK, that’s really, poorly paraphrased, and, well, sort of meaningless.
But it is true, people want to see hunters shoot animals on the hunting programs. Good scenery is a huge bonus. Production quality and witty banter from the hosts/celebrities is always good. Solid hunting tips and education are valuable. Lots of footage of game can build suspense and interest. But by the end of the show, something better be on the ground. Or, if not, Part II better promise redemption… and it better be sensational.
On the same note, when you’re trying to appeal to the least common denominator, it’s not generally enough for the television hunter to walk away with a little forked horn buck, or a cow elk. Personally, I’ve always felt like a trophy is in the mind of the beholder. It’s about the experience that goes along with the animal. But that sort of esoterica is pretty tough to mass produce. On TV, unless you’re extremely careful, if the hunters just start killing game indiscriminately, it’s likely to come across looking a little bloodthirsty. What’s just as important is that there’s a large segment of the audience that is hoping to see those prime specimens. Why bother to put it on TV if you’re just doing what the average guy is doing?
There is, of course, the obvious irony of the guys on the shows who continuously give lip service to, “keeping it real.”
But that’s for another time.
The second thing is that there’s going to be product placement… blatantly. Most of these programs are built on the backs of their sponsors. The only way to make that pay is to sell product. So, along with the hunting, the hosts (and often their guests) are hawking product. Of course, it can be taken to extremes, as it is in the Cabelas American Archer series. I swear, by the end of that 30 minutes I got pitched more products than I get in my entire Cabelas Christmas catalog. Seems to me Tom Nelson spends more time just pulling stuff out of his pack to show the camera than he does actually hunting.
Still, when it comes to hawking product, the industry has evolved to some extent. The bigger programs are usually able to get through an episode without having to take a break to go over their gear list. Of course, this is partially because there is real advertising money coming to the channels now. I think automakers (pickup trucks and SUVs) were among the first to recognize the potential market in the outdoors programming niche, but now I’m seeing more and more mainstream ads show up. As a result, I’m starting to see more of the programs moving away from shilling for sponsors, and instead they can focus on producing some quality television.
And that brings me back to the promise I made in the first installment of this series… to talk a little about some of the “gems” that are out there, mingled with the rough stones. There are some quality programs out there, and if you can accept these two core premises… successful hunts are a given, and you’re going to get a sales pitch… they’re worth looking for. But, I’m already over 1000 words, I’m getting hungry, and my glass of tequila appears to have evaporated. So I’m gonna make this quick, and promise (again) to get down to it soon.
What I believe is one of the best programs out there right now is Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion. As outdoors programs go, Newberg appears to be listening to the viewers and doing his best to give them realistic hunting programming without too much reliance on product placement. What makes his show really different from most in the genre is that he specializes in do-it-yourself hunts on public land… stuff that any dedicated, able-bodied hunter could feasibly do. And that’s huge!
Consider the costs of some of the hunts you see on the other programs, where a whitetail deer hunt might run in excess of $3000, or a guided elk trip will push the $5000 mark easily. Newberg takes the viewers to public land, accessible to anyone, and then shows them how to make a successful trip out of it. What he does isn’t so much a secret, but a lot of hunters in the US don’t realize what kinds of opportunities are available on lands that they, as citizens, own.
Randy also comes across as pretty personable. I’ve only met him once, briefly, and he was awful gracious (considering it was at SHOT and 10 million sponsors, producers, and other industry types were breathing down his neck). You kind of want him to succeed in the industry. He seems like the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind spending a week afield with, even in tough conditions. What’s more, his show sometimes features his friends and relatives on the hunts, and he often ensures that they have success, even if he goes home with tag soup. That kind of thing just makes me want to hunt with him even more.
And I think that’s one of the key tricks to success in this industry. You have to be someone the viewers would like to hunt with. Whether it’s Randy Newberg, Michael Waddell, Brian “Pigman” Quaca, or Larry Weishuhn, I have noticed that the personalities that attract me, and seem to get the longest shelf lives in the outdoors TV business, have a charismatic allure. You just kind of want to spend some time in the field with them.
It takes more than just charisma to make good outdoors TV, though, and Randy Newberg has it going on. You can see him for yourself on The Sportsmen’s Channel, or check him out on the forums at Hunttalk.com.