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Reality trucking shows: Truckers ask, "Where's the reality?"

Lisa Kelly, a star in the History Channel series "Ice Road Truckers," speaks at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., this spring.

By Aprille Hanson
The Trucker Staff

5/29/2013

Editor's note: This article was first published in the May 15-31 issue of The Trucker newspaper.

While television audiences might be entertained by the extreme antics of the men on “Big Rig Bounty Hunters” or by the hair-raising, treacherous situations the drivers on “Ice Road Truckers” face, most average truck drivers agree that that is all the trucking shows on television truly are – entertainment.

“I don't like any of the shows,” John Fahrion said on The Trucker Facebook page. “They attempt to paint a picture of the stereotypical trucker. The shows make the truckers look like buffoons. How can we get any respect from the general public when they think this is how we really act?”

Several truckers responded to The Trucker Facebook page post asking if trucking television shows are an accurate portrayal of the industry. Most gave a resounding “No,” that life on the road isn’t what’s considered reality on the small screen.

“I've been trucking 25 years and I can't sit through any of the reality trucking shows,” John Highley commented. “Other than having trucks in them, they don't have much of anything that resembles real trucking.”

The inaccuracies about the trucking industry being played out for the world can lead some unsuspecting viewers to bite off a bigger career than they can chew.

“Had a trainee once who thought it'd be cool to drive just like in the movie, ‘Black Dog.’ He quit pretty quick once reality set in,” Robert Cooper posted. “Slinging chains on a steel load in -20-degree Fahrenheit weather just off Lake Huron apparently wasn't in the movie. …”

While most truckers agree that negative stereotypes are continuing to be enforced by the shows, Charlotte Ground said they’re at least shining a much-needed light on the industry.

“Trucking is one of the hardest jobs and least respected not only by receivers but employers,” Ground said. “I like the shows because it’s helping increase respect for truckers but it doesn’t even touch the surface on the difficulties and hardships faced.”

Jeff Tingle posted that television is finally portraying truckers as “decent human beings,” even with some of the crazy characters thrown in.

“Hopefully these shows will get those not in our industry to understand our challenges. We need all the help we can get to rid the public of all the old stereotypes,” Tingle said. “As diverse as trucking is, I'd say that pretty much everything I've seen is accurate, even if it doesn't represent my style or kind of trucking.”

Here’s a breakdown of some of the top trucking shows and truckers views on them:

BIG RIG BOUNTY HUNTERS

Network: History Channel

Premiered: February 2013

AIRS: Thursdays, 8 p.m. / 7 p.m. Central; full episodes online at history.com

Synopsis:  History’s most recent trucking show, “Big Rig Bounty Hunters,” follows four different groups of men – and one “Lone Wolf” as he’s called – who find tractor-trailers that have been abandoned or stolen to either retrieve the goods or get them to their proper destination on-time. On History’s website the show is explained: “In Big Rig Bounty Hunters, History tracks five groups of colorful characters along a perilous competition to retrieve the missing loads while facing a ticking clock and life-threatening duty. A day in the life of a truck hunter is never easy, but the dollar signs keep these truckers hunting.”

The “colorful characters” are the vets, desert dogs, the lone wolf, Jersey boys, Texans and ex-cons.

With bad grammar and bad teeth prevalent, the truck hunters may be entertaining, but also feed into unpleasant trucker stereotypes, according to drivers on The Trucker Facebook page.

“‘Big Rig Bounty Hunters’ is so fake,” Bruce Shealy posted. “Pathetic show, watched [it] once and it lowered my IQ 25 points just by tuning in.”

However, some, like J.D. Hanadarko, said “the two guys on ‘Big Rig Bounty’ without teeth are hysterical,” referring to the vets.

“It’s all 'made for TV' and not 100 percent factual but I still find it entertaining to watch,” Hanadarko posted.

ICE ROAD TRUCKERS

Network: History Channel

Premiered: June 2007

AIRS: Reruns on History Channel; full episodes online at history.com

Synopsis: The sixth season of “Ice Road Truckers” showed the trucking cast battling icy and snowy conditions in far reaches of North America, places like: Alaska where oil exploration is at a high; Manitoba, Canada, where drivers were forced to travel on the thinnest ice roads the area has ever seen; and in the Yukon, where drivers crossed rivers, lakes and the Arctic Ocean to northernmost settlements for deliveries. The show will take place in Canada for its seventh season.

Delores Petko said the show is far from the reality of trucking.

“To me ‘Ice Road Truckers’ is not reality to real trucking they are just fighting over who is going to make the most money,” Petko posted. “OK, yeah I agree running over water is very dangerous, but real trucking is out here. We go thru all sorts of weather. Like ice, snow, hurricanes, tornados, severe rain and stupid drivers. Their show is just ice, money and arguing. I mean it kinda makes real truckers look bad.”

However, Dale Mckeigue said the struggles portrayed on “Ice Road Truckers” are pretty accurate and he should know – he’s lived it.

“I have run Alaska and that show is about the closest it is to being real and true to most of real life up there. There is no room for error on ice roads,” Mckeigue said. “Some of the people up there think it’s a piece of cake ‘cause they ran all lower 48 … sorry it’s a whole new world up there and you need to learn new skills or you won’t make it.”

While some might want more programs true to the industry, Todd Moge said shows like “Ice Road Truckers” need to dramatize to keep viewers tuning in.

“I believe that most of it is for the sake of the camera to make it interesting,” Moge posted. “I don't think that a show about everyday trucking would be interesting enough to keep an average person entertained for an hour.”

AMERICAN TRUCKER

Network:  SPEED

Premiered: February 2011

AIRS: Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET / full episodes online at speedtv.com

Synopsis: Truck-enthusiast Robb Mariani hosts “American Trucker,” which “takes a look at some of the most iconic machines, routes and locations that define this largely under-appreciated occupation,” according to speedtv.com. The show’s synopsis also says how demanding the profession is because of “dangerous roads, immense traffic, mindless drivers and difficult deadlines.” 

Most drivers on The Trucker Facebook page supported the show’s message.

“‘American Trucker’ I like ‘cause he gets to travel and sees and helps other drivers and does some projects,” Mckeigue posted, adding however, “I think that no show has done an accurate job of showing this profession and how tough it really is and all the family life and troubles we encounter.”

For Larry Lynn, the show turned out to be helpful to him personally.

“It actually helped my wife understand better what I do,” Lynn said. “The episode on Donner Pass was epic.”

TRUCK STOP USA

Network: Great American Country TV (gactv.com), reruns on Travel Channel

Premiered: 2011 on Travel Channel

AIRS: GACTV, reruns on Travel Channel  

Synopsis: The show follows Joe Bechtold, the general manager of Midway Truck Stop, his employees and the various visitors who want a sneak peak at the unique truck stop located on Interstate 70, halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City. The Midway has a variety of businesses and attractions to explore including the Under The Gun Tattoo Parlor, Fearfest Haunted Attraction (“allowing visitors to shoot live Zombies with paintballs”) and an Expo Center which hosts various events, including horse shows.

While the show might give a glimpse into a unique truck stop, Jarrod Echols said it could do a better job of chatting up the truckers.

“All the shows are fake,” Echols posted. “Plus Truck Stop USA doesn’t even talk [to] or show truck drivers.”

SHIPPING WARS

Network: A&E

Premiered: January 2012

AIRS: Reruns on A&E on weekends, clips on aetv.com 

Synopsis: “Shipping Wars” follows six independent shippers who transport items that traditional carriers shy away from – everything from a houseboat to a human-sized hamster wheel. The shippers battle to provide the lowest bid for transport from uShip, the world’s largest online marketplace for independent truckers, according to A&E’s website, aetv.com. The show is teased as “cutthroat” and this season promises “crushing loads, multiple blowouts and precariously placed items” that cause problems.

However, the drama is laid on pretty thick and most truckers aren’t buying it.

“There is no way that the problems those ‘Shipping Wars’ people have would enable them to stay in business,” Cooper said. “I mean, where do you just randomly rent a truck with no warning when your van breaks down?”

However, Nathan Hagen posted: “I enjoy ‘Shipping Wars’ and that's after I was involved with uShip for two years prior the actual show!”

WHAT TRUCKERS WANT TO SEE:

Drivers on The Trucker Facebook page said they’d like to see a little more reality in their reality TV – leave behind the drama and competition and show what it’s really like on the road, said Marcus Mayheim Hollins.

“[I] would like to see more some reality shows about trucking and some movies showing how hard it is so family and friends understand why I don't feel like driving when I'm home,” Hollins posted.

John Solliday, a trucker for more than 30 years, said he’d like to watch a show about the true coverage of the whole industry.         

“I agree what is needed is a reality show that is based solely on what happens every day out here from dispatch to shipper to receiver to the job all-around and all the traffic, other obstacles that we deal with every day and on a moment’s notice, along with the regs [and] low pay.”

Michael Sheroan posted about his desire to see a show about a truck driver “in the real world of trucking,” and The Weather Channel may just have provided it.

“Loaded,” which premiered March 25 on The Weather Channel, follows three truckers – Joe Barilari, Ryan Hastie (owner of Hastie Hauling) and Brenda Banks – as they battle various weather conditions and the average hassles of living the life of a trucker, according to The Weather Channel’s website, weather.com     

Pick up a printed copy of The Trucker at TA/Petro truck stops or call 800-666-2770 ext. 5029 for information about an at-home subscription.

 

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at aprilleh@thetrucker.com.

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