Emmys: How 'Deadliest Catch' Editors Juggle 30,000 Hours of Footage

A six-person editing team whittled an insane amount of material into gripping TV, including the delicate handling of Captain Sig Hansen's heart attack: "You’re walking that line of personal space and a TV show. You want to be tasteful."
Courtesy of Discovery Channel
'Deadliest Catch'

While it's sometimes questioned to what extent reality series work to drum up drama, supervising editor Josh Earl insists that's not needed on Deadliest Catch. "This one is real," he says. "When you are watching Deadliest Catch, you are watching what happened. Because we film so much for so long, we catch a lot. A lot of shows don't have as long a filming period."

It's hard to fully comprehend the logistics of making Discovery's popular reality series about king crab fishermen in Alaska. This season the editors were delivered a jaw-dropping 30,000 hours of footage, of which roughly 8,000 hours was handheld. Deadliest Catch already has earned 16 Emmys, five of which were for editing.

The season begins in October and shooting typically runs through early December, with six cameras rolling on each of seven boats. "They're out anywhere from five days to two weeks," reports Earl, who this season also served as a supervising producer. When the boats dock, the footage and notes are secured and shipped to Burbank, where a six-person editing team gets to work. "We have an army of people who help us attack that footage."

While each season has its own unique challenges, this time the editors' job involved the delicate handling of a medical emergency. "Captain Sig Hansen had a heart attack, on camera, and we were dealing with highly sensitive footage," says Earl. "Luckily, he went to the hospital and survived, but as editors, we're getting into someone's personal life. It's a fine line between what to show and what not to show. We're letting people in while also [maintaining] the privacy of someone dealing with an ailment. You're walking that line of personal space and a TV show. You want to be tasteful."

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.