‘Deadliest Catch’ Delivers Moving Tribute, Massive Ratings

by | July 14, 2010 at 1:29 PM | Deadliest Catch, TV News

The late Captain Phil Harris, of the Cornelia Marie, will be featured on the new season of 'Deadliest Catch.'  (Discovery)

How could you not be moved?

Last night’s ‘Deadliest Catch‘ gave Capt. Phil Harris a death with dignity, while still keeping true to the mandate demanded by reality television – that you include the good, the bad and the ugly parts of life, to the best of your ability.

Harris, skipper of the Cornelia Marie, finally succumbed on an episode that was long-awaited – and dreaded – by the ‘Deadliest Catch’ faithful. He’d had a stroke last January, appeared to rally a bit, then declined and passed away on Feb. 9 in an Anchorage, Alaska, hospital.

Josh Harris Talks About His Dad, Capt. Phil, And The Cornelia Marie

His final days, but not his final moments, were shown on the show last night. It was very easy to cry along with son Josh Harris, who wept as he told his weakening dad how much he loved him and how much he appreciated everything he had taught him – about crab-fishing certainly, but also about manhood. You had to cry when Josh lightly and lovingly touched his father’s cheek with the knuckles of his curled fingers.

And younger brother Jake finally took the bold step to enter rehab to break his alcohol and drug habits – visiting his father on what would turn out to be his father’s deathbed to tell him he was committed to getting straight, his father telling him how proud he was.

Executive producer Jeff Conroy told Fancast in a phone interview that the subject of filming inside Capt. Phil’s hospital room was a hot topic of discussion. “At times, people said, ‘You shouldn’t be filming in the hospital room,’ but then we wouldn’t have captured those tender moments between the sons and their father in his last days of life so that turned out to be wrong advice,” Conroy said.

Conroy considered Capt. Phil a friend, and everyone who worked on the production side of ‘Deadliest Catch’ felt an acute loss when the skipper died. “That was the hardest part of it all for all of us,” Conroy said. “Not only are we doing our job, but we’re telling the story of our friend passing away. He was just a great guy.”

Capt. Phil’s death took place off-camera, though viewers saw Josh place the agonizing phone call to Jake to tell him their father was gone.

Post-show reaction from critics was virtually unanimous.

“In all my years watching reality TV, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a moment as real and as achingly beautiful as ailing Phil Harris kissing his hand and putting it to his son Josh’s face,” wrote ew.com’s Mandi Bierly.

E!online’s Natalie Finn enthused: “Most of the salt water in this episode of ‘Deadliest Catch’ came courtesy of all the tears.”

Discovery reports that more than 20,000 ‘Deadliest Catch’ fans joined a live, on-line chat before, during and after the show last night. “Hats off to you, Discovery,” wrote one fan. “Very respectful.” The episode also hit a ratings high for the series, with 8.5 million viewers tuning in to watch Phil’s last moments.

Indeed it was. Did you watch the show? How do you think the death of Capt. Phil was handled?