Stories from Alaska

An insider's journey through Alaska's best kept secrets

Alaska Reality TV

Lights! Camera! Alaska! Reality TV thrives in the Last Frontier

Alaska: Where life is as real as it gets. Real fascinating and real unique, real cool and real cold, real mysterious and real extreme, real welcoming and even real dangerous. No wonder literally dozens of reality TV programs are, or have been, based in Alaska and around its often more-interesting-than-fiction residents and lifestyles. Some might call it a cottage industry, though cabin industry would be more accurate.

Alaska has long intrigued the world, making it a perennially popular travel destination. That same allure also turned Alaska into a television obsession in the era of reality programming. From the comfort of their couches, viewers can get up-close-and-personal perspectives on the wild and wondrous, challenging and commonplace aspects of life in every corner of the north. They also get the rare chance to meet and hang out with Alaska’s larger-than-life personalities, from the relatable to the peculiar, the stoic to the end-of-the-road oddball.

It makes for great TV as these programs tap the usual tried-and-true reality genres, albeit with serious twists of Last Frontier flavor: adventure and survival, business and competition, comedy and drama, food and drink. And yes, hunting: whether for fish and game, real estate, ot even an authentic Alaska mate, there’s no shortage of shows about people seeking something. That includes a bonanza of shows about gold mining.

The shows also span the spectrum of success: a few are star-making blockbusters (Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Alaska: The Last Frontier, Life Below Zero, Gold Rush, Alaskan Bush People), some are cult classics (Bering Sea Gold, Edge of Alaska, The Last Alaskans, Yukon Men, Railroad Alaska, Alaska State Troopers), and many are forgettable flops (Slednecks, Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska, Alaska Proof, Wild West Alaska).

At the peak of Alaska programming, there were seemingly countless shows airing, a nonstop rollout of new shows, and a weekly reality TV column about them all in the Anchorage Daily News. Alaskans, and many reality programming fans, joked of “Northern Overexposure,” a play off the kitschy Alaska-based CBS ‘90s comedy Northern Exposure that was based on the town of Talkeetna. Some Alaskans scoff at the programming and their “stars,” questioning the definition of “reality.” But that’s been the eternal sentiment about all reality TV, really. Most residents avoid the spotlight and carry on with their own versions of real life and fishing reel life.

While the perils aren’t always 100 percent genuine, the personalities, places and powerful pull are. So the shows must go on – popular programs press ahead and new shows continue to pop up, all fueled by curiosity about the great state and a craving for the only-in-Alaska content of spectacular and treacherous adventures, peculiar people, awesome animals, and unique urban and off-the-grid life.