Bounty Hunter Series Collars Viewers’ Hearts

Oct 25, 2004  •  Post A Comment

By Adam Sandler

Special to TelevisionWeek

While bounty hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman arrests fugitives, his weekly series captures viewers.

Both men and women tune in each week in impressive numbers to watch the character-driven documentary-style reality show, in which Dog and his team hunt down criminals in Hawaii.

Aided by his wife, Beth, son Justin and brother Leland, Dog-dressed in black, in stark contrast to the show’s colorful island denizens-uses profanity one minute and quotes scripture the next. The character’s paradoxical style is also evident when he tackles a dangerous felon and then gives him a hug, while offering words of encouragement.

If this series were a fiction writer’s concoction, it would likely be considered too far-fetched to be credible. But when Dog gets attacked by angry relatives of his latest bail-jumping suspect or sprays Mace at a bad guy when an arrest goes south, viewers know it’s real. And it’s that gritty-with-a-heart realism that has connected with audiences and is keeping viewer levels strong.

The show’s Aug. 31 premiere pulled in record numbers for A&E, averaging 3.2 million total viewers for two back-to-back half-hours, according to Nielsen figures. As a result, “Dog” was the most-watched new series debut in the 20-year history of A&E.

“We’re very proud of the show. And it’s a dream come true,” Mr. Chapman said. “And the decision to work with A&E was an easy one. A&E is a network with class.”

On Oct. 5 the back-to-back airing of two new episodes averaged 2.6 million viewers, with 1.7 million in the network’s 25 to 54 target demographic. More than 1.6 million adults 18 to 49 tuned in. And in an unusual twist, the numbers increased in the second half-hour from 2.3 million to 2.9 million viewers, making it the highest-rated episode of the series.

“Dog kicks ass,” said Nancy Dubuc, VP of nonfiction programming and development at A&E. “People are watching because he’s a colorful character, full of contradictions. He’s a comeback story, and viewers love comeback stories.

“Plus, he has a conscience,” Ms. Dubuc said. “He’s not hunting for the sake of hunting; he has a more personal mission, and there is a richness and a complexity to that. Those things make the story more valuable and entertaining in many ways, and viewers are responding.”