Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

A scene from Discovery Channel's Gold Rush. (Discovery Channel)
A scene from Discovery Channel's Gold Rush. (Discovery Channel)

Television

The North should prepare itself for a prime-time TV gold rush Add to ...

My prediction for 2013 is the victory of the proletariat.

Okay, all righty, maybe that’s not going to happen. So let’s stick with possible trends for 2013. Here’s a trend that is not entirely unrelated to the victory of the proletariat – the North.

News arrived recently that Discovery, the fabulously successful U.S. cable channel, has ordered up its first scripted project, and that drama project is called Klondike, based on Canadian writer Charlotte Gray’s book Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike.

More from John Doyle

Among those involved is Ridley Scott, the English director and producer responsible for the movies Alien, Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down, among other titles. In a press release Scott says, “Klondike was the last great gold rush; one which triggered a flood of prospectors ill-equipped, emotionally or otherwise, for the extreme and gruelling conditions of the remote Yukon wilderness.”

Indeed. But what matters, too, is that the decision to make Klondike follows on the ratings success of Discovery’s reality series Gold Rush (seen on Discovery Canada, Tuesdays, 9 p.m., Saturdays, 11 p.m.). Now into its third season, the series follows the key workers at four mining companies as they dig for gold in Alaska.

Recently, new episodes have been drawing about five million viewers in the United States, often beating network shows in viewer numbers.

While Gold Rush is contemporary and also fits into a category that includes shows about truckers and loggers, part of its allure is its connection to gold-rush legends and stories of the past. It has a weird fascination for many viewers who find the raw, entrepreneurial capitalism of the show to be intoxicating. Horrible work in terrible conditions can lead to sudden vast wealth.

Mind you, it seems to be the setting that’s terrifically attractive too. A number of series has been set in the Arctic, the Canadian North or Alaska, series that celebrate the setting as much as the people who toil there.

On Discovery there is Bering Sea Gold: Under the Ice, a show with a title that is self-explanatory. Discovery says it’s about “the next generation of Gold Rush explorers.” The series comes from the producers of the daddy of all such shows, Deadliest Catch, which follows tough guys crab fishing on the Bering Sea and has been immensely popular with viewers.

There is also the Canadian-made Highway Thru Hell, about what unfolds on the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia, and there’s Ice Road Truckers and History’s Ice Pilots NWT. The latter show appears to have been the inspiration for the CBC drama Arctic Air. Now, if Arctic Air wasn’t a banal show with predictable storylines, it might actually have some juice, should this trend go forward.

Still, CBC might be on to something with Arctic Air, and other Canadian broadcasters would do well to use local resources to, ah, mine, for scripted drama in the North. Frontier towns. Untamed wilderness. Dangerous work. Desperate, dangerous men. The lure of instant wealth. That’s the ticket. According to the people making Klondike, the story also involves “greedy businessmen, seductive courtesans and native tribes witnessing the destruction of their people.” By heavens that’s a toxic, thrilling recipe. Especially with the “seductive courtesans” and all.

Look out for a passel of shows like Klondike. If the U.S. networks pick up on this potential trend, expect to have the “courtesans” involved. Because, as everybody knows, most of network TV is about, and aimed at, women. New Girl of the North, anybody?

But, to return to my original suggestion, another aspect of this trend is the celebration of workers. Sure, some characters in the shows about the North can be said to be loner-businesspeople. But they don’t really qualify as entrepreneurs. They work. They are exploited. And if they strike gold, then it is, in a way, the victory of the proletariat.

Airing tonight

Jersey on Ice (TLC, 10 p.m.) is a new, New Jersey-set reality show about figure skaters, their domineering moms and their coaches. The coaches are the stars. One barks at a kid, “What’s the slowest animal in the world? Think of a worm that’s dead, you’re actually slower than that.” Yikes. But bound to have resonance in Canada, right? And with more drama than Barbara Walters Presents the 10 Most Fascinating People of 2012 (ABC, 9:30 p.m.)

All times ET. Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories