It’s been several years now. I was still active as an actual shelldigger when all of this transpired, but with my back problems I knew I didn’t have a lot of time left. But anyway…
One day out of the blue a, guy, a fellow diver, who I have known for many years and have nothing but the greatest respect for, dropped by. He informed me that he had been contacted by representatives from the Discovery Channel, they were looking at possibly creating a new reality show about guys in our line of work. That line of work for interested parties is/was (for me) the gathering of freshwater mussels from the Tn. River on Ky. Lake. Kind of confusing, but that’s what it’s called. There is the ancient river channel meandering through the river valley, but they dammed up and flooded this area back in the 40’s creating the enormous Ky. Lake. So we have a great deal of lake area that averages during summer pool anywhere from 5-6 feet on shallow bars, to 15-20 feet in the mudflats between bars, and the old river channel which averages between 45-70 feet in places. The flooded valley can range anywhere from 1/3 of a mile wide to nearly 5.5 miles across (at its widest point) and stretches nearly 75 miles long. Of which 51 miles was accessible to harvesting shell. I have also worked the Cumberland river in Tn., the Mississippi river between Ia. and Ill., as well as the Guadalupe river in Texas. Also a brief stint in E. Tn. where the Tn river begins its life as river.
River diving here is called Blackwater Diving as visibility is exactly that once you get beyond 20-25 feet down. Black as coal, you cannot see your hand in front of your face, darkest dark I have ever experienced. But it is what it is, we do what we do, and we get it done. Back in the early 90’s I had been diving for many years prior, someone came up with the bright idea to mount a sealed halogen 12 v bulb to a helmet and thus blackwater dives became “hey I can actually see” dives. Though visibilty still varied greatly due to silt, current, and an abundance of both during long rainy sessions. Many times you had no visibility at all even with a light, but I digress.
The shell we harvest is of the finest mother of pearl quality in the world. Highly desired for the cultured pearl business. The buyers bought shell from the divers, processed the shell by cooking them, disposing of the meat, and shipping the processed shell to mostly Japan, China and South Sea areas. Once the shell arrive there, the shell are cut into squares through the thickest area. These squares were then rounded into perfect circles. These circular pieces of mother of pearl then become implants into live oysters, which then are then returned to water which enables the oyster to grow its beautiful luster around the implant. A cultured pearl.
Well my buddy informed me that the Discovery reps wanted him to interview a few guys and I got one of the nominations. My friend setup a small video camera and we discussed the job for a while, and that was that for some time.
A few months later I got a call from my friend and the Discovery reps were in town, they wanted to meet. So we met at a motel in town, I was introduced, we talked a while, then these 2 guys (a rep and a camera guy) wanted to ride a round a bit and get the lay of the land, so to speak. So we all loaded up in my truck (crew cab with room for all of us) and headed off towards the closest river access. Well next thing you know the camera guy wants to get some footage so we crossed the river on hwy 70 bridge and he got footage both ways. They told us they were preparing a “sizzle reel” which is basically a compilation of camera footage and descriptions to help sell the idea for a new show to the higher ups at Discovery. We rode around for a while and talked, and filmed, and it soon got dark and the Discovery guys took us out to eat at the Mexican joint in town.
Well again that was that for a while, life went on, and I almost forgot about it. Then I heard from my friend that they had decided to shoot a pilot episode. A pilot is a test run to determine potential popularity for a TV show before they commit to a full series run.
As it turned out I did not get the call to participate in the pilot. They did have me show up one day for some helicopter flyby’s I suppose to build an opening scene. That was the limit of my participation. Though there was a lot of talk about if the show took off they would definately be introducing more guys in the series, which I’d be part of. As it turned out I’m grateful it didn’t work out.
See my buddy was in the pilot, and I had a front row seat to what was going on. I thought the entire time they would be making a show out of our daily adventures highlighting the dangers, the near death experiences, the breakdowns, the storms, the sinking boats, the wind and current, the actual real life struggle of guys committed to supporting their families working through all sorts of brutal conditions that would send many men heading for the river bank crying for their mommies. But that wasn’t the case. They had no intention of REALITY.
Instead they had storylines intended to highlight manufactured drama. My friend was supposed to be the experienced guy who had taken on a little sweetie cutesy gal, to “show her the ropes.” Another guy I know and like had the role of the hard working dad and his good for nothing son. Creating drama between them. So…yeah. I’m glad I didn’t get involved.
We kept hearing that Discovery Channel would air the pilot, but it was always getting put off. And I heard again at some point it did air, but I missed it. I got a copy from the friend I mentioned in the beginning and throughout this tale. Let me tell you it was terrible. Absolutely atrocious. The biggest problem was there was no reality at all to any of it. The second biggest problem was my friends were terrible liars. Had they been better liars this might have made it as a TV show. As it is, I’m glad it did not turn out.
My good friend told me that the entire thing was a fiasco. He had issues with his wife because of the cutesy gal in his boat, team Discovery was always having him show up for shooting and there would be hours worth of delays of them getting there to shoot. Which means my buddy lost a LOT of time he could have been actually working and making money. Instead he lost a great deal of income sitting idle waiting for the cameras to show up. I am glad I missed out on all of that crap.
I have never been much of a fan of reality TV. Too much nonsense to suit me. I admit for a while I watched Deadliest Catch and very little of Swamp People. But now knowing what I know, and how it actually works, I despise so called “Reality TV.” It is an oxymoron of the highest order and worthy only of contempt. Unless you are just really into the manufactured drama thing. If that be the case then more power to you. I guess… 🙂