At 30, Decker Watson left his job in advertising, sold all his furniture and traded the Big Apple for the West Coast. What does he have to show for it 10 years later?
After Sunday night, it just might be an Emmy.
Watson, who grew up in New Canaan, is up for the nearly seven-pound statuette for his work as series producer for the Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch.” He and six others, who are producers on the show, are competing against PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters,” ABC’s “Shark Tank” and CBS’ “Undercover Boss,” in the outstanding reality program category.
“I know everyone says this, but it’s true,” the 1991 New Canaan High School graduate said during a recent telephone interview from his home in California where he now lives with his wife and child. “It is really a huge honor to get the nomination.”
The team is up for “Mutiny on the Bering Sea,” the first episode in Season 9, which concluded earlier this year. Since 2005, the documentary series has followed the lives of a handful of crab fisherman who work in the waters off Alaska.
The award will be given out at the 2013 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony that will be held Sunday at the NOKIA Theatre in Los Angeles.
For the friends and family still living on the East Coast, and other parts of the country, there might be a chance to catch Watson during the highlights of the show that will air at 9 p.m. on the FXX network on Sept. 21. The following day, the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards will be aired live on CBS at 8 p.m.
Episode 9 was the first one that Watson served as series producer, having first started working with the show about three years ago.
“As a series producer … you are the main point person,” he said, meaning that one day could have any manner of challenges, from assessing the safety of the television and fishing crews, to serving as a sounding board. It means looking for those unusual camera angles and music choices that can heighten what is inherently a dramatic scene. It may mean enjoying a jam session and laying down some percussive rhythms to be used as part of the original score. (Watson has been playing drums since he was a child.)
The year before, Watson had served as supervising producer, where he first learned the challenges of organizing and keeping tabs on the many boats and crews.
“You are part director, part storyteller, part producer, part psychologist, part psychiatrist,” he said of the roles required while working with the film crews on a daily basis, while the boats are at sea.
“You must respect whatever they tell you that they got … they put themselves in harm’s way to bring those shots back … and they have earned whatever it is that they have,” he said.
“A lot of them have worked on the show for years (he said of the camera operators and crew). ‘Deadliest Catch’ has a way of drawing you back every year … the greatest day is the end of the season, when you can finally breathe a sigh of relief when all the boats are back to shore and all the guys are back safely,” he added.
Of course, it doesn’t take long into the summer hiatus, he said, for the crew to want to be back out on the water again.
Watson’s journey to the deck of crab fishing boats was less than a straight one.
He has worked in an automotive shop, held jobs in catering, promoted nightclubs, hired musicians and DJs and has written ad copy. Along the way he picked up the skills to operate a camera and audiovisual equipment, often in a dangerous setting, and to amass the visuals and vocals he would need to tell a moving and compelling story.
Watson first attracted attention for his work at the Baja 1000, an off-road race that is part of a desert racing series. It can be as dangerous for the competitors as it can be for those trying to document the race. The pace was a bit less deadly when he went to work on MTV’s “The Hills.” Not long after that assignment, he went to work for Original Productions LLC, the company that would create “Deadliest Catch,” “Ax Men” and other reality series.
“With Original Productions … you have to be part adventurer, part storyteller,” he said, noting that the dangers are real for those behind and in front of the cameras.
“You do get a lot of bruises, cuts and scrapes on these kinds of shows,” he said. “Still, I don’t think the guys who shoot this type of stuff are daredevils. These are people who appreciate a great story and are willing to go and get it.”
Watson has a wealth of memories that would be hard to cultivate for the average person.
“For an adventurer, it was a dream come true,” he said, as he shared some singular moments, such as the time when a sea turtle the size of Volkswagen beetle, was so close to the boat on “Swords” that he could touch it.
He also saw some horrific traffic accidents in India on “Deadliest Roads,” but that is where he found his dog Jackson – a starving puppy he managed to nurse back to health. For “Deadliest Catch,” he has become a part of the family of fisherman.
Watson has channeled the business and communications skills he learned at Northeastern University into an unexpected career – one that continues to educate him.
“Since I have worked for Original Productions, I have learned how to handle toxic chemicals, how to deal with a hostile kidnapping situation, trained in triage and first aid … really, I’ve been able to train in anything I have wanted to learn.”
He might even be able to say one day what it feels like to win an Emmy.