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California firm collects big state subsidies on hit cable shows

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Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2012 11:19 pm | Updated: 11:54 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The state subsidy for the first season of Discovery’s “Bering Sea Gold” is $322,732.

This is the eighth subsidy provided by the state in recent years to a California company that also collects state checks for “Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers” and “Ax Men.”

The trend of Alaska-based reality TV shows really took off with “Deadliest Catch,” created by Thom Beers of Original Productions LLC in 2005.

The company began getting a subsidy in the sixth season of that show, nearly $600,000, followed by a subsidy of $786,000 for the seventh season.

“Ice Road Truckers” began getting a subsidy in its third season, for $393,000, followed by $898,000 for season four and $491,000 for season five.

All told, Original Productions has collected more than $3.5 million in subsidies. The company says on its website that “Deadliest Catch” is the top-rated series on Discovery.

For “Bering Sea Gold,” which showed up on TV last February, Original Productions paid a total of $54,092 in wages to three Alaska residents who worked an average of four weeks each. For hiring three Alaskans, the California company picked up a 10 percent “Alaska hire” credit of $5,409 that is included in the state subsidy.

Original Productions says the “February premiere of ‘Bering Sea Gold’ on Discovery was the network’s most-watched series debut ever. An average of 3.66 million people tuned in as it set records for the network among households, adults 18 to 49, and adults and men ages 25 to 54. ‘Bering Sea Gold’ has already been renewed for a second season.”

Would these shows exist without the state subsidy? The success of “Deadliest Catch” without a subsidy would seem to say ‘yes.’”

The state subsidies make the shows more profitable, but the state should ask for something in return and higher levels of Alaska hire.

The state film payment reports are better now than they were in the past, when it was impossible to tell how much was being paid to Alaska residents.

Most of the money on most productions is going Outside.

“‘Bering Sea Gold,’ which is about divers who yell a lot and use small underwater dredges off the coast near Nome, is no different.

The subsidy report filed with the state by the film company from Burbank states there were 23 people from Outside who worked on the show, for an average of seven weeks each.

They earned a total of $436,587 in wages.

As I said, the state reports are better than they used to be, but the Alaska Film Office can still do more to make the reports more accurate.

The wages paid to people from Outside should not count as “Alaska production expenses.”

That would reduce the “Alaska production expenses” of $984,156 by at least $436,587.

Proponents of the subsidy program say it is helping create the foundation for an Alaska industry in the movie and TV business, providing opportunities for more local jobs. They also say the shows promote Alaska tourism.

Analysis of the real Alaska economic impact should include an assessment of those opportunities as well as a more accurate presentation of how much is being spent in Alaska.

Dermot Cole can be reached at cole@newsminer.com or 459-7530.

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