Once again, “Deadliest Catch” has a death to deal with as it begins its seventh season Tuesday night on Discovery (9/8c).
But the nature of this one – the death of Time Bandit crewman Justin Tennison – differs significantly from the death last season of a beloved character – Phil Harris, captain of the Cornelia Marie, one of the central crab-fishing boats featured on the show.
The drama of Capt. Phil’s death last February at age 53 (of complications following a stroke), became part of the show since it happened to coincide with filming of the sixth season. In addition, Capt. Phil was a popular figure who had been a fixture of the series since it began. His story boosted the series to record ratings when the emotional episodes featuring his stroke and, eventually, his death aired last spring and summer.
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This time around, the death of Tennison brings a different set of challenges, says Thom Beers, executive producer of the revered reality series about macho crab fisherman plying their trade in the icy waters of the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska.
Tennison, 33, was found dead Feb. 22 in a motel room in Homer, Alaska, where he had evidently thrown a party the night before. There were no signs of foul play, according to local and national press reports. The results of an autopsy are either pending or have not been released publicly.
Tennison had just finished his first crabbing season as a crewman on the Time Bandit, captained by Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand – which means Tennison will be seen in multiple episodes of the upcoming season. But Beers indicated that Tennison never took centerstage in any of the show’s storylines. And his death occurred after filming had ended. The challenge for Beers and his producers is how to deal with it, since every time viewers see Tennison this coming season, at least some of them will be aware that he has since died.
“It’s a tough one for us,” Beers told Xfinity.tv in an interview last month that was conducted mainly to discuss another one of his shows – the new “Coal” on Spike. “To be honest, Justin didn’t really ‘pop.’ It’s not like he was a huge character on the boat so it’s a bit more awkward for us because he was a kid who we just started to get to know.”
The producer indicated that Tennison will likely be honored with an on-screen acknowledgement that he passed away since the series was filmed. “We all went to the funeral,” Beers said. “I mean we knew him, he was a good kid. It’s so sad because he’s just somebody who made a mistake [although] I don’t even know what the coroner’s report was.”
The seventh season of “Deadliest Catch” premieres Tuesday, April 12, at 9 p.m./8c on Discovery Channel.