Before becoming a television executive, Mary Donahue earned two masters degrees in American Studies, so when she saw the first episode of Swamp People she knew History had something special on its hands.
The series, now early into its ninth season, follows alligator hunters in Louisiana during the annual 30-day season when they put their lives at risk for a dangerous hunt that will determine much of their annual income.
“The people like Troy Landry and Bruce Mitchell are authentic American heroes,” said Donahue, senior VP of programming and development at History, naming two stars of the series. “The show is truly unique in that it hearkens back to the frontier days. Their life is rooted in the skills of the frontier.”
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The show is a good fit for History because of the characters’ deep connection to their Acadian heritage and the ways of their parents and grandparents, Donahue said, adding that she was struck by “how much the men and women working there love the swamp and are grateful not to be stuck in a cubicle.”
Donahue said Truly Original has skillfully translated those people and stories for television. “One of the gifts they have is to be able to go into a place where people are naturally suspicious of outsiders and win their trust and get them to open their hearts and lives,” she said of the production company. “That takes time and patience and kindness and respect. And then you have to honor their stories.”
Donahue also credits the company’s crew for “beautiful” cinematography, “brilliant” editing and “amazing” storytelling. “The package of all those make this succeed, and their showrunner, Brian Catalina, is one of the most talented people I’ve ever known.”
The show moved to Texas for one season, but Donahue said everyone involved realized the show’s heart is in the community in Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River Basin and that each season reflects “the truth in the swamp” and “the state of the marketplace.
The second season, for example, reflected a “Gator Gold Rush,” when prices were soaring. In the current season, characters are struggling as prices have dropped to “among the lowest in living memory.”
Some characters come and go from the show, and some may now have their livelihood imperiled, but Donahue thinks the show will still be going strong five years from now. “It reflects American values — people who work hard and care about their families — and that gives it life. Who can resist rooting for that?”