By Gavin Menu
There are perhaps a thousand colorful ways to describe the contradictory phenomenon that is Tred Barta.
And now, the North Sea man who made his reputation as a no-holds-barred fisherman and hunter, but who now spends a great deal of his time trying to protect the species he once pursued, is coming to a TV screen near you.
Fox Sports Net has announced that it will premiere “The Best and Worst of Tred Barta,” a reality-based outdoors show, on April 9 at 5:30 p.m. The half-hour show will feature the East End native’s ranting and ravings as much as his inarguable fishing and hunting talents. Unlike traditional shows that idealize outdoor sporting, Barta said the program will show viewers what really happens in the world of hunting and fishing—the good, the bad and everything in between.
Known for more than two decades to local fishermen as the “Butcher of Shinnecock” because of his tuna-catching exploits in the North Atlantic canyons, Barta has spent most of his life on the edge, chasing the thrills of nature and claiming animal and fish carcasses as his trophies. It’s a safe bet that nobody on the planet has caught more bigeye tuna with a rod and reel than Barta, and the 217-pound bigeye he caught 20 years ago on 20-pound test remains a world record to this day.
There is no denying that Barta is one of the most recognized fishermen in the world, but what was it that made him a candidate for a reality TV show? Surge Entertainment’s Mark Freedman, an executive producer whose feature films have grossed more than $500 million, read Barta’s book, which lent its title to the new show. Freedman became a fan immediately.
“I started in 1980 doing entertainment for kids at Hanna-Barbera, so jumping from cartoon characters to Tred Barta is not much of a reach,” Freedman said. “But I read his book and thought he was a character who would be a great subject for a reality show.”
Barta still loves to hunt, fish, and kill. But he said he became a changed man after the birth of his two children, Lauren, 16, and Hunter, 13. Barta went from being a natural born killer, obsessed with his own accomplishments, to a man with an agenda that emphasizes a return to basic societal values. Barta says the “dot-com world,” as he describes it, has undermined the very groundwork from which society develops its children, and Barta says he wants to use what he knows best as a tool for change.
“We’ve lost honor and basic precepts like showing up on time, doing your best, and how to value a man and a woman,” Barta said. “I believe you have an obligation not only to give something back, but to be an example.” Barta said he believes that a person’s word is his bond, and that in nature your life can depend on trust and honesty.
In 1977, Barta, fearing that the billfish population would reach extinction, began the Barta Blue Marlin Classic, a catch-and-release tournament in the Bahamas that is now one of the most acclaimed blue water billfish tournaments in the world. Colleagues close to Barta told him that his efforts would go unnoticed. Many people were amused by the fact that Barta, one of the most talented fish killers in the world, was now focused on trying to save fish.
“People said that nobody would come,” Barta said of his tournament. “But you know what happened? They came in droves. Last year we had 100 boats and had to turn down 600 entries. Now it’s one of the premier events in the world.”
Barta’s Blue Marlin Classic has raised more than $1 million for the International Game Fishing Association’s Junior Angler Program. The tournament welcomes anglers of all ages, consistent with one of Barta’s most basic principles: “Families that fish and hunt together, stay together.”
Freedman, of Surge Entertainment, said that he first went to stations such as ESPN, YES, and TNN, all of which carry outdoors show. Most of those channels, Freedman explained, work on a time-buy system in which producers pay to have their programs aired, much like infomercials. It became clear to Freedman that this system would not work for Barta.
“The difference with Tred is that he is such a colorful character,” said Freedman. “If he had every logo written on him, or had to promote certain companies, he couldn’t be himself.”
Barta wholeheartedly agreed. “When you’re beholding to all the advertisers, in general, it will be very boring,” Barta said. He added that most outdoor shows lack a sense of authenticity because “everything is done the easy way using every technical piece of equipment in the world. It’s all about figuring out how to make a kill the easiest way and by doing the least amount of work possible.”
Barta said that most outdoors shows are watched by only 150,000 to 300,000 of the estimated 70 million hunters and fishermen in America. Barta is ready to lead the revolution, and believes that he and Freedman together could “change outdoor TV forever.”
“I don’t want to sound like a prophet,” Barta said. “I love to kill, to hunt, to fish. But I find that doing things the hard way is much more fulfilling.” One of Barta’s most passionate philosophies, and a pervasive message of his new show, is to not fear hard work. By being honest, consistent and hard working, he believes, the rewards of success will be plentiful and more enjoyable.
“The Best and Worst of Tred Barta” has been given a three-show commitment, after which Fox will decide whether to continue with the show. Barta said that he hopes the show will be a success, but that he is not afraid of failure. One thing for sure is that in the end, Barta will find a way to get his opinions out to the public.
“I’m not a politician. Hunting and fishing—that’s my passion, and I am going to use what God gave me to better the world,” he said.
Issue Date: Southampton Press 03/04/04
Copyright, The Southampton Press