Storm Spawns Special for ‘SOS’

Sep 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

A new show being shot for Discovery Channel got an unexpected boost when the U.S. Coast Guard rescue squads it was filming over the summer were called into New Orleans to save lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The network rushed production and plans to launch the series, “SOS: Search and Rescue,” with a special Oct. 9 that will focus on the Coast Guard’s heroic activity in New Orleans. The show will move to a regular time slot the following Wednesday.

“SOS” is part of an action-oriented genre of shows about people living dangerous lives on the edge that the network hopes can pull it out of its deep ratings slump.

“It was an amazing coincidence that we ended up filming with a bunch of the guys who ended up doing all the rescues after Katrina,” said Discovery Channel General Manager Jane Root. “We were filming three different boat stations and five different air stations and a lot of them got called in on the big SOS out to all Coast Guard stations to help with rescues.”

Discovery picked up the show about six months ago as a follow-up to its success with the action-oriented, real-life series, “The Deadliest Catch.” “The Deadliest Catch,” which focused on the hard life of Alaskan crab fishermen, drew a 1.6 household rating and was renewed earlier this month. Season two of “The Deadliest Catch” is scheduled to air in the first quarter of 2006.

Ms. Root said Discovery wanted more of those shows about life on the edge. “This is raw, energetic real life with real people right in the heart of it,” she said. “It’s about everyday heroes, uncelebrated people without whom America wouldn’t work.”

In addition to “Deadliest Catch” and “SOS,” the new shows “Deadliest Seasons,” which looks at smoke jumpers, storm chasers and others in dangerous occupations, and even “Dirty Jobs,” about people working in disgusting circumstances, fit into this category, she said. “Dirty Jobs” was Discovery’s best performing new series this summer among viewers 25 to 54 with a 0.9 rating. It has improved the time slot 129 percent from a year ago.

“SOS” is produced by Discovery Channel in association with Red Dog Entertainment. Julian Hobbs and Michael Schlossman are the executive producers.

After “SOS” was shooting for two months, Discovery increased the episode order for the show. Camera crews watched as the Coast Guard teams plucked surfers out of the sea, saved people from sinking boats and helped law enforcement by catching drug smugglers in the waters in and around Oregon, Massachusetts, Florida, Alaska, North Carolina and Florida.

“We thought that was pretty damn exciting. We’d seen some amazing things happen. And then Katrina turned up,” Ms. Root said.

While the Coast Guard was performing rescues in New Orleans, Discovery’s cameras had amazing access, Ms. Root said.

“You see them pulling people off the tops of houses. You see them pulling people out of swirling flood water. You see families rescued. You see children being rescued. You see people’s lives being saved minute by minute,” she said. “And you also see the guys in the helicopters exhausted, willing each other on, just working every minute doing everything they can.”

The show puts the viewer in the middle of the action. “There’s no filter, there’s no newsreel-casters,” she said. “These are real everyday heroes. These are the guys who saved thousands of lives. They got up in the morning to do their day job and then they got out there and saved people’s lives.”

Over the course of the summer, Discovery’s ratings were down between 16 percent and 19 percent, depending on the demographic. Discovery got a huge boost with its original movie about 9/11, “The Flight That Fought Back,” which premiered Sept. 11, drawing more than 7 million households and earning a 5.1 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. Discovery is averaging a 1 household rating for September, up 25 percent from a year ago.

Ms. Root is counting on the new action shows to continue that momentum. “We’re feeling pretty good about ratings at the moment,” she said.