Hog Blog Hunting TV Reviews and Criticism – Episode 2
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.