REALITY TV usually doesn’t feel very real, unless you happen to eat maggots, work for Donald Trump, or keep up with the Kardashians in your everyday life. But a subset of reality shows about tough blue-collar jobs has grown popular, perhaps as a result of the economic downturn.
“Ice Road Truckers,’’ which follows men who drive rigs through the frozen Arctic, attracted about 3 million viewers to its first episode last year. “Swamp People,’’ about Louisiana alligator hunters, drew 4 million. “Deadliest Catch,’’ about crab fishermen in Alaska, was one of the highest-rated shows on cable television. Now, Massachusetts has its very own weekly blue-collar-job series: “Wicked Tuna,’’ about fisherman in Gloucester, which premiered on the National Geographic Channel recently to more than a million viewers.
The show follows the crews of five boats - Tuna.com, Bounty Hunter, Odysea, Christina, and Hard Merchandise - as they troll the frigid Atlantic in search of the rare bluefin tuna, which can sell for $20,000 per fish.
The show’s drama comes not from backstabbing wives or millionaire bachelors, but from the competitive and unpredictable nature of fishing and the rough seas that sparked the book and movie “The Perfect Storm.’’ The fishermen received a minimal stipend for being on the show, but still needed to fish to pay their bills.
When so much of television involves over-the-top displays of wealth and glamour — often without reference to any actual work — it is refreshing to watch the daily struggles of real people doing a real job, and loving it.
“When we watch soap operas, we are rooting for beautiful and wealthy people to get their comeuppance,’’ said Ray Richmond, a longtime television critic and contributor to Deadline Hollywood. “When we watch tuna fisherman, we are rooting for guys who are down on their luck to succeed.’’