Producer Thom Beers and his reality shows are currently exploring a possible end of civilization in Discovery's "The Colony," the dangerous world of sword fishing on "Swords: Life on the Line" (also on Discovery) and the equally treacherous world of working on a Texas oil rig on truTV's "Black Gold." With tonight's second season opener, "Black Gold" continues giving viewers a window into the world of the three crews that spend their work day (and night) digging for oil with a ticking clock deadline hanging over their heads that, if not met, could end their jobs and, possibly, their lives. Our Jim Halterman talked with Beers about the stakes this season on the show as well as why these men risk their lives every day and the dangers his seasoned cameramen must also endure while filming.
Jim Halterman: What are the differences between the first and second seasons?
Thom Beers: A couple of things. This year, the stakes are higher for the individuals themselves. A lot of the shows I do have a high stakes/high reward quotient and this one is different because when the price of oil fluctuates... when the price goes down, a lot of the oil rigs shut down. They couldn't afford to drill a hole to make any money. In this case, the owner of the rig itself had to punch these holes in the ground in 50 days or else he'd lose the lease and that could be worth as much as a quarter of a billion dollars. So these guys had to actually get in there and drill these holes but the challenges that they had to face is they had to push really hard to get the holes done. If these guys weren't pushing hard and getting the job done they were going to be replaced. I think it mirrors what's going on in America. Nobody wants to lose their job so they're under a lot more stress to work harder than they've ever worked just to keep their jobs so I think that's a lot different. We also brought back Gerald, the old driller, the archetype, he's the guy who is kind of looking for some redemption since last year he got fired and just didn't do so well. This year he's trying to get back on the rig and do better but he steps right out of the gate and the first thing he does is flunk his drug test so he has to go into rehab and sort of change his ways.
JH: Do we get more insight into who these guys are this time around?
TB: I think with all my shows you get a chance to get more inside the guys' heads and their psyches and understand a little more of what makes them tick. I'm enjoying this new season [of "Black Gold"] because you get to shorthand in season two a little bit. You don't have to explain everything. You get a shorthand going and then you have a great rhythm in storytelling so that's why I'm enjoying this year. Also, new characters... we had the opportunity to cast a wider net. When I'm doing a new show and nobody knows anything about it everyone is like 'What do you want? What do you want?' And then once the show is on the air, everyone wants to be in it so you have this great wide net you cast and then you cast the most interesting characters out there.
JH: How competitive do things get on the show?
TB: What I did this year... I did something different. I stayed on the same rig and in drilling these five holes in 50 days it's the three crews that I'm spending time with now. The idea of the competition between the three rigs [in the first season], I have to admit it felt a little forced in season one and I like the happy competition with 'Ice Road Truckers' or 'Deadliest Catch' but this one is a little different. I really wanted to keep focus and keep it less the competition between the rigs and more 'Hey, look, I'm working the night shift and I'd like to get on the day shift.' It kind of creates a much more realistic worlds particularly on the rigs. The rigs don't really worry about what the other rigs are doing a mile away but they worried about what the night crew is doing and whether they're pushing pipes strong enough and that, I think, works better for the show.
JH: The crews seem to have a family feel to them and obviously when a family isn't getting along, it effects the work. Does some of that come into play?
TB: Obviously, the Greenhorns (the seasoned workers) are always the most interesting characters ; you know they're the ones that you and I identify with because we don't know squat about that world. This year, we have this kid, a worm (a newbie), Cheston. He's a bright kid and he's really ambitious and wants to own his own rigs but he steps into a buzz saw with this kid named Pee Wee, who is the driller and he's younger than him. He's 23 and, for some reason, he does not take to my guy Cheston at all. He doesn't like him, he wants him off the rig, and he wants him fired by day 2. It's pretty underhanded. I never really understood why he did this but Pee Wee just did not like him and did everything possible to get him fired but the kid prevailed.
JH: What is a consistent trait that all these guys in this line of work possess?
TB: A couple of things. One is that obviously you're making as much as anyone in that economy and in that world and that's going to draw a crowd of people. For some reason, that kind of rough-and-tumble world draws guys who are willing to take risk and, at the same time, they're the kind of guys I like. The kinds of guys who want to get on a motorcycle and ride, go drink a couple of beers, shoot some guns and just be men.
JH: How much would it disrupt things if a woman was added to the mix?
TB: Look what we did with "Ice Road Truckers." We brought Lisa Kelly in this year and she's incredibly hot � smoking hot � and she brought something else to the world that I like and when she's driving you can see the worry and fear in her eyes. With my guys, they're pirate kind of guys so she brought that kind of vulnerability, which I thought was kind of cool. Out on the rigs, you just can't find women. It's a hard damned job and everything about is hard. You have an outhouse and when you walk into the bathroom you don't want to use that thing unless you're near dead so it's just not that hospitable to women. I wouldn't mind it. If I found a woman worker out there I'd put her on.
JH: How does your crew of cameramen manage to stay safe in such dangerous conditions?
TB: The nicer part of this world for our camera crew is it's not like they're going to fall overboard but at the same time it is brutal work. You're talking 110 degrees out there and the workspace is really slick from the oil and there's mud everywhere. It's dirty, greasy and hot work and the guys do it because this is what they love doing. It's not 'Blind Date' or 'The Biggest Loser.' [The camera guys] want to go to some exotic location and have a real, authentic experience and that's what these shows are.
JH: You have so many reality shows out there, Thom. What else do you have coming down the pike?
TB: I just launched "Swords" on Discovery and there were huge numbers. I'm really excited about that. I have "Lobstermen" coming up and then I'll be back out again. I'm kind of exploring new genres a little bit. I think "The Colony" really took us in a different direction and I'm hoping the numbers hold on as strong as they've been because I'd really love to do a second season of that. You always realize the mistake and the flaws from the first season and you want to correct them and do it perfectly the second season. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
"Black Gold" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on truTV.