When Snooki loses her pouf the Twittersphere lights up, but Emmy noms have been more likely to shine on shows where real people find themselves up against the real problems — everything from family fights and catastrophic illness to trouble with their jobs — that most people face each day of their lives.
Whether they’re telling the stories of the crab fishermen on “Deadliest Catch,” the people who get their hands filthy on “Dirty Jobs,” a chef who tries to save kids from obesity on “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” or even the efforts of a carpenter to join an activist group on “Whale Wars,” Emmy nominees in the reality and nonfiction categories often follow genuine struggles familiar to viewers.
On last season’s “Deadliest Catch,” which is nommed for nonfiction series, captain Phil Harris and son Jake clashed when the younger fisherman revealed his drug problem. The captain of the Cornelia Marie became so enraged he said he never wanted to see his son again.
As this season opened, things only got worse for the Harris family. Jake and his brother Josh Harris struggled to cope as their father died after undergoing a 12-hour brain surgery following a stroke — not exactly the sort of issues that crop up in the hot tub on “Jersey Shore.”
“You think at first this is a show about crab fishing, but it’s not,” says Jeff Conroy, an executive producer on “Deadliest Catch.” “It’s a show about people’s lives, and they just happen to fish for crab, and that’s why people can see themselves in these characters.”
“Dirty Jobs,” nommed for reality program, takes a similarly unflinching look at life, using the work done by everyday people as a gateway into their lives. Once you get past just how gritty that work can be, you begin to understand how hard most people are working for what they have, explains exec producer Craig Piligian.
“When you realize there’s someone out there who has to get the roadkill off the road so you can drive on it, you appreciate them and your life more,” Piligian adds.
Solving problems and tackling issues are common themes for Emmy nommed shows in these categories. “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” given a nod for reality program, documents the passionate and sometimes desperate attempts of a chef to change the way school lunches are prepared in Huntington, W. Va.
Oliver targets the city because it is plagued by childhood obesity. His attempts to teach residents how to prepare healthy meals and get the school to offer nutritional student lunches almost run off the rails when a funding crisis emerges, Oliver realizes the Food and Drug Administration ties the hands of schools with respect to certain food issues, and the people of Huntington become suspicious of Oliver.
“They were not the most receptive town to begin with, but it’s a story worth telling when what Jamie (Oliver) does can inspire Huntington and everyone watching to do something about their eating habits,” says “Food Revolution” exec producer Craig Armstrong.
Sometimes the reality and nonfiction cameras of Emmy-nommed shows end up on the trail of something truly extreme. “Whale Wars,” nommed for cinematography and editing in the nonfiction category, follows the crew of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group made up of both paid skilled sailors and volunteers from every walk of life, as they attempt to interrupt the activities of Japanese whaling ships.
“It’s about the commitment that ordinary people have to a cause, and whether or not you agree with the cause, you get to see what they go through to support their beliefs,” says “Whale Wars” exec producer Liz Bronstein. “Watching them might make you ask yourself what’s important enough to you that you’d put your life on the line for it.”