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.
October 21, 2014
I have to apologize. This post should have come out last night, but I discovered another risk of “reviewing” TV. I wanted to pop over to one of the hunting channels and get a little more to write about, but it was all repeats. I started flipping aimlessly through channels.
And then I saw it.
I’m not making this up. Robert Englund. Jenna Jameson. And this fight scene… omigawd the fight scene…
And so, I didn’t watch any hunting shows last night. I didn’t finish this post. Until now.
Well, since I made the decision last week to actively (and on purpose) start doing reviews of outdoors television programs, I’ve spent more time than usual with the idiot box tuned to either Sportsman Channel, Outdoor Channel, or Pursuit Channel. I know that there are some other hunting and outdoors-related programs out there, but honestly, at this point I have no interest, whatsoever, in spending time with “reality” TV programs that may or may not actually include reality (or, for that matter, may or may not include any actual hunting).
I said before that I didn’t want this whole project (outdoor TV critic thingie) to be a litany of negative commentary, and that’s still true. But I thought tonight, maybe now’s as good a time as ever to get a couple of things out there… consider it an add-on to my platform.
As I watched some of these programs over the past several days, I realized that, up until now, I haven’t really been watching very closely (maybe that’s a good thing). I found that, in a lot of cases, it’s sort of a struggle to focus on some of these shows for more than a few minutes at a time. They’re paced differently, I suppose… with more of an aim to satisfying the short-attention span demographic. If you try to pay close attention to what they’re saying, it gets a little… well, “inane” is the word that comes first to mind.
“It don’t get no better than this!”
We’ve all heard it. Some of us have probably said it. But what, really, has it come to mean?
No, I’m not cracking on the grammar. I grew up in the South, and like it or not, that’s how some people talk. Just because folks talk slow, it doesn’t mean they are slow. Let’s keep that in mind.
What I’m cracking on is the cliché. I mean, seriously, it was the tagline for a crappy beer commercial in the ’80s.
Not to be misunderstood, of course. I understand how incredibly good it can feel to succeed on a tough hunt. I know what it feels like when everything just comes together for one of those magical moments in time. And in that moment, when I’m just overwhelmed with the awesomeness of it all… I’ve briefly thought that it might not get much better than this. But seriously, when it comes time to communicate that sensation to the world at large, I’m thinking an exhausted cliché is really not how I want to do it. It’s like cussing. There’s a point where it stops meaning anything, as Robert Ruark’s “Old Man” pointed out.
Cussing is for emphasis. When every other word is a swear word it just gets to be dull and don’t mean anything anymore.
Robert Ruark, The Old Man and the Boy
It’s time to say something new, guys. Really.
“It don’t get no better than this,” is both dull and meaningless. Maybe you don’t have to get quite as carried away as Jim Shockey on his Uncharted series (which is actually kinda cool and different, but they really do get a little caught up in the theatric), and maybe you don’t need to simplify quite to the point of Pigman, Brian Quaca (“whayuumm!”). But really, if you live right, and long enough, it will almost certainly get better than “this”.
I think laser rangefinders are one of the best tools ever developed for the hunter… particularly, for the bowhunter. The difference, for an archer, of three or four yards can be the difference between a clean kill and a clean miss. What’s worse, that difference can result in a wounded animal that may not be recovered. As untraditional is it may seem, I think rangefinders should be part of every bowhunter’s gear.
When it comes to rifle hunting, well, I have a strong personal preference. I feel like, if you’re hunting with a modern, scoped, centerfire rifle, and an animal is so far away that you feel like you need to range it with a laser device… well, there’s nothing wrong with either trying to get closer, or just watching the animal as he goes about his business.
But the developments in rangefinders, combined with the newest scopes and compensating reticules have turned the rifle hunter into a long-range sniper. Or, at least that’s what the advertisers would have us believe. And boy howdy, isn’t that all over the TV programs.
By the way, I’ve used some of these systems and I have to say, they really do work. It is impressive to be able to step up to a strange rifle, having never fired it, and ring a 12″ gong at 800 yards on my second shot. With a little range time, there’s no doubt that a dedicated hunter could learn to use these systems effectively and ethically at ridiculously long ranges.
I’m not going to launch into another diatribe about long range hunting, though. Rather, I’m going to point something out that should probably not need pointing out.
When you’re lined up on a buck, and your spotter calls out a range inside of 200 yards, there’s really no good reason to start cranking away at your ballistic drop compensator turrets. At that distance, you ought to know where that bullet is going to strike, or pretty danged close. You just aim the rifle and pull the trigger. I know that. You readers probably know that. And the guys on TV should know it too.
But there they are, twisting that poor little knob like their lives depend on it. And either the hunter or the voiceover will be sure and tell you what kind of scope or “shooting system” is being used. You’ll hear it again before and after the commercial break. Of course, most of us recognize that all that scope adjusting and flipping of the safety on and off takes place after the actual game is shot.
You hear so much from these programs that they just want to “keep it real.” I’m all for that. It would be nice to see.
And a note to the “talent.”
When you’re re-enacting the shot, it behooves you to remember what you were wearing when you pulled the trigger. That coat you slipped on to go recover the animal and take your hero shots… you weren’t wearing it when you killed that deer. Or that hat, tipped around to “rally” position… you forgot to readjust it before you acted out the shot sequence. And in one program that will remain nameless (because I can’t remember which one it was), the hunter actually used a different rifle to stage the shot than he used to shoot the deer (and I’m not talking the difference between a Browning vs. a Winchester, but a bolt gun vs. a single shot).
What I’m getting at is that when I hear someone say, “I can’t stand hunting shows,” I think I know where it’s coming from. It’s hard to overlook the inanity. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that half (or more) of the stuff on outdoor television is unoriginal, formulaic, and often just poorly thought out. It does seem to be getting a little better, but the programming is still full of silly stereotypes, overt shilling for corporate sponsors, and a near-total lack of self-awareness. There are gems in the mix, of course, but you have to be willing to look for them.
In an upcoming post, I’ll talk about a couple of those gems and why I think they’re quality examples of the genre.
October 14, 2014
A couple of Fridays ago, I posted about Kat’s big adventure in North Carolina and how empty Hillside Manor feels without her here. It was a sort of melancholy screed, and, well, honestly… the place still feels empty and if I had it to write all over again, it wouldn’t change. It’s a drag. It sucks.
Whining about it certainly isn’t going to change it though. The truth is that, given some of the things going on in the world, a lot of people out there would happily trade their troubles for mine. No matter how big a deal this may be to me, to the rest of the world it’s pretty picayune. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that (probably).
So, what then?
Well, one thing that occurred to me Sunday evening, as I sat in front of the TV, recovering from the 25 hour drive back from Raleigh, was that I could sit around in front of the TV as much as I wanted. But, truth be told, I already did that before… probably much more than I should have. The only difference is that now I can spend more time watching hunting shows. It’s not that I didn’t watch them when Kat was here, but she never cared for them (often ridiculed them) and I’d usually find something that we could both enjoy together. I didn’t mind changing the channel, because for the most part, I don’t really like most hunting programs. To be more precise, I intensely dislike several of them, barely tolerate a few others for the horn porn value, and actually enjoy one or two of them. But I watched them because, well, they were hunting and I wasn’t.
So I’ve got hunting shows. And as I sat there on Sunday, making snide and condescending remarks about yet another gut shot animal or something, it occurred to me that I should do more than just watch these shows and talk to myself. I should watch these shows and talk to you folks… the Hog Blog readers (all two and a half of you…on a good day, not counting bots).
It’s hardly a novel idea. I’ve done several critiques and reviews of hunting television over the years, and even briefly made it a regular thing (over on my original site). Since then I let it sit, either uninspired or unmotivated, until Michelle Scheuermann at the Bulletproof Media blog sounded a general call to quarters for outdoor TV reviewers. That got me thinking about it again, but since I wasn’t watching the shows regularly, I didn’t pursue the idea. But now…
I still haven’t worked out the whole campaign, but I’ve got some thoughts. To begin with, the Hog Blog is not going to become all TV reviews, all the time. If that looks to be the direction, I may create a new blog just for the reviews, because the Hog Blog has its own raison d’etre. But really, it will provide some new content and keep things moving around here… or so I hope. I mean, you can only read so many stories about my unsuccessful hunting trips, and the broken record about the Lead Ammo Ban, while it will continue to play, has just really been beaten to death. So why not spice it up with something new?
I’ll also offer this bit of foreshadowing…
Reviewing TV or video is all about opinion, and I have plenty of that when it comes to the topic of hunting. I’m a pretty harsh critic, and most hunting programs offer an awful lot to criticize. I call it like I see it, and since I’m not receiving any compensation from the networks or programs, I have no reason to hold back. The flip side of that coin is that any praise I offer will be well-deserved. You don’t have to agree with me, and I encourage open discussion and debate (as always on this blog). I know that I will probably tip some sacred cows (I’ve done that before), and that will draw the ire of lockstep fans. I will police the comments as carefully as ever in an effort to keep it to a reasonable level of civility.
I believe that televised hunting should portray the hunt at an elevated level of behavior. This means that while there may be an effort to, “keep it real,” the producers must adhere to a higher-than-average ethical standard. There may be any number of mitigating factors in the field, but the viewers only get to see the final output… and that’s how the show will be judged. And that’s how I’ll critique it. I’ve had producers in the past contact me to tell me that my comments were “wrong”, and that I just didn’t see what really went into a certain shot or situation. My response was, and will be, that I saw what every other viewer saw. Behind the scenes is irrelevant if it stays behind the scenes. How are the viewers supposed to know if you don’t show them?
I recognize that many of the individuals involved in hunting television are really amateurs in the field of TV production. Most of them are serious hunters who have found a way to get paid for what they love to do. I’m not ever going to knock that. I’ll admit that there have been times when I wished it was me. And even while they’re amateurs, several of them have really advanced by leaps and bounds in the production quality and technical skills (or they’ve hired quality staff). But while the technical abilities have advanced, too many of these folks still don’t seem to understand (or believe) that the viewers only get part of the story. It really is about what-you-see-is-what-you-get. You seldom get the opportunity to explain what someone saw. Well, the Hog Blog will give them that opportunity.
We’ll see how all this goes. I think I’ll start with one post per week, and let’s arbitrarily say that will happen on Wednesdays. I haven’t decided if each week will focus on a single show, or if it will be some sort of smorgasbord of the previous week’s viewing.
So, if anyone is actually reading this, what do you think? I mean, I’m gonna do it anyway, but I’m always curious for feedback.
Oh, and don’t get me wrong. This is hardly consolation for Kat’s absence, and I’d trade it all, including the TV itself, to have her back here.