Let me ask you a question

I was talking to Mrs. Ahab about the “shooting shows” that I watch: ShootingUSA, Shooting Gallery, and Guns & Gear.  I wanted to know what it was about those shows that she didn’t enjoy, which she was able to sum up with “I don’t want to watch a guy take a gun apart, put a little part in, and then put the gun back together.”

So, here’s a question for the casual shooters: say for the moment that you’re not into gunsmithing, USPSA, or whatever: what kind of TV show about guns would interest you?  For a point of reference, despite all the factual errors, my wife likes Lock ‘N Load with R. Lee Ermey, because “he does interesting things and doesn’t just shoot clean little holes in paper targets”.

Post your thoughts in comments so I can assemble my Frakenhab TV monster, please.


  1. Watching people shoot is like watching someone play a video game. That said, I like the instructional portions of the shooting shows and seeing an overview of the action sports.

    I’d actually like to see a more in-depth gunsmithing show. Let Larry Potterfield have a half hour on how to thread and chamber a barrel. But I realize that’s pretty niche-y.

  2. I don’t golf or like golf but I can watch golf on TV. I LIKE shooting but I can’t watch 3 minutes of a shooting competition on TV. Is that a factor of the quality of production values or how boring it is to watch people shoot fast, other than Jerry Micelek (spelling) style demonstrations.

    Face it, Caleb, other than to you and your direct competitors, it is a boring sport. You are testing yourself, not putting on a display. Popular sports has to be both, display AND competition.

  3. I haven’t watched too much shooting on TV, but some real, actual drama couldn’t hurt. The shows that I’ve seen make it seems like everyone’s a winner just for showing up, which is fine to appeal to newbies, but otherwise not why competition is interesting. Maybe it’s because I’m from the unfriendly northeast, but at my IDPA matches, some people are too slow, miss important shots and even lose. Sometimes badly.

    This creates tension and drama that I might watch.

  4. The problem with a USPSA show is it’s kinda like watching downhill racing on TV: Those in the know can appreciate how darn tough it is and all the little things that the very best do to separate themselves from us schmucks, but to everyone else, it’s people running around shootin’ stuff. Explaining (and showing) the little things that the best shooters do in order to win is the hard part.

    We watch sports we don’t compete in ourselves because of, (to steal a phrase), “The human drama of athletic competition”. Some emphasis on the personalities (think NASCAR) would help raise interest in the sport, as people are drawn to that sorta thing. When you break it down, NASCAR is guys in cars that are all almost identical driving fast and turning left. What makes NASCAR so big is the personalities of the drivers, and if the Outdoor Channel can’t nurse a little Glock vs. 1911 drama out of USPSA, their producers need to find new work..

  5. Unfortunately, most of the country likes reality shows. You can follow the standard reality TV script even: pack a house full of young, attractive women and men with loose morals, severe personality conflicts and anger management issues… the “twist” will be giving them guns.

    It can’t fail!

    In all seriousness though, if the shooting shows spent more time dealing with the personalities and the lives of the people involved in the sport, it might appeal to more women.

    I also think shows about shooting games would be far more interesting if you had Joe Huffman secretly tinker with some of the targets before each match.

  6. ZK – the thing is, most of the people involved in shooting sports are even-tempered and generally laid-back. You’d have to look real hard to find Serena Williams-style drama.

  7. The commercials come between show segments, not during.

    Most gun shows, outdoor shows, and car shows are guilty of this. As are their printed coutnerparts. Yes, I want to hear about new products and see them tested, however I want to either learn something or be entertained by the show NOT watch a thinly veiled commercial in EVERY segment. Learning about new products is all well and good, just don’t do it in every clip.

    A range of things from “reviewing safety” to “you’re a rookie” to “you’re moving up” to “so you want to shave 0.001 seconds off your draw” would be nice.

  8. Television programs that are supported by firearms industry sponsors need to attract people who spend money on firearms related gear, not their wives. A show that entertains and captivates a bunch of people who won’t actually spend money on the advertisers’ goods isn’t going to stay on the air.

    And ExurbanKevin is correct, most folks watch a Leatham or Sevigny shooting a USPSA or IDPA match and don’t appreciate the incredibly high level of performance they’re witnessing. Compared to what Mel Gibson or Tom Cruise can do in a movie, who can blame them?

  9. “firearms industry sponsors need to attract people who spend money on firearms related gear”

    Agreed, but it doesn’t hurt to broaden your show which will broaden your audience. Besides, I thought women were the new “fastest growing segment” in the gun market.

    The thing is, I buy guns, ammo, and related gear, but even I hardly ever watch those shows anymore because they get very repetitive. They simply aren’t interesting after you’ve seen basically the same 3 or 4 shows constantly repeated. The people who tune in every week to watch Shooting USA aren’t going to be offended by expanding the targeted audience a little. Likewise, those regular viewers are already spending money on the advertised products, so the shows (and their supporting advertising) are really only able to direct a buyer towards one product rather than another. If you diversify the shows a little, you might be able to encourage new shooters, and create new revenue.

  10. How about seeing segments on guns and gear normal people can actually afford? Seeing a full house custom 1911 is really cool, and watching Open class competitors with their space guns, etc. gets a little boring. I’d like to see stuff that’s a little more relevant to my much smaller, unsponsored budget. I’d also like to see more instructional segments on basic stuff, and self defense type stuff. Drawing from concealment, using flashlights, how to get rid of a flinch, trigger control, etc. is a lot more interesting and relevant to casual shooters, because it’s the basic stuff that’s at their level.

  11. My son, who is in the entertainment business in Hollywood, and I have discussed this very subject at length and we both agree most everyone is approaching it from the wrong direction.

    They are approaching it from the standpoint of the shooter and relevant information;i.e. what’s new, how to fix or build something, how good it shoots. When really to make an entertainment show interesting IT HAS TO BE ENTERTAINING.

    Few of the shooting shows, or the hunting shows for that matter, ARE ENTERTAINING. They have NO humor, or even a Sense of Humor, No Suspense, NO DRAMA and while informative, their level of delivery makes all but but the front row fall asleep.

    Think if the average show was being shown to you in a classroom, would you find it interesting or boring, even if you ARE a shooter?

    I think 90% of them are a certified ‘FAIL’ for the previously stated reasons.

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  12. I think Frank W. James is saying the same thing as me; add some drama. Mr. Morris, it doesn’t have to be celebrity or reality show style drama, just add an element of failure; of risk. Watch shooters who make mistakes, aren’t master level, and who’s skill level allows the uninitiated viewers to understand what’s going on.

    For example, I’m a pretty new IDPA shooter. I’m unclassified at the moment, but I shoot at around Sharpshooter. When I make mistakes, you don’t have to be ‘in the know’ to notice. There are holes in no-shoots, there are tap-rack-bangs on the clock, there are way too many shots in limited-vickers. I’m very even-tempered, but I’d be happy to tell a camera that I’m disappointed I messed up on national TV and lost to my arch rival, Guy #2.

  13. I think the way to make a USPSA competition interesting to a non-competitor is real time scoring. Superimpose little hit graphics on the targets, and keep a running tally of points and time, with a bar graph of hit factor that moves in real time. Obviously you can’t do this live, but it shouldn’t be that hard to do in post production.

  14. Oh, forget to mention, the other way to hold interest is to get Taran Butler on camera. I’ve been listening to Matt Burkett’s old podcasts, and the episodes with Taran are pure gold.

  15. I think a “Challenge” show would be entertaining. It could be similar to the shotgun shooters exhibitions like “Tom Knapp”. But, you could also have pistol and rifle “trick shots.” For example, every week someone comes on the show and does x number of trick shots. After the person does their trick shots, there could be another segment where they perform some standard challenges (How many poppers in 4s?, How fast through a Shoot House?, How many clays in one hand throw, etc.) Then you make a leader board and see how each person stacks up against everyone else. This would allow the sponsored shooters from S&W, Springfield, STI, Infinity, Benelli, Glock, etc. to showcase their products in a entertaining way.

  16. I recently started watching Guns And Gear, but I’ll be dropping it from my TiVo recording schedule soon. I get all the firearm info I need from the web, and I get it waaaaaay before it shows up on TV. I much preferred Surviving Disaster on SpikeTV to Guns and Gear because that teaches me something that I can do with what I have, not showing me stuff that I can’t buy and don’t want.

    Product shows that are nothing more than The Home Shopping Network with bangbang stuff don’t interest me. Frank’s 100% correct and what he says agrees with your wife’s comments too, Caleb: Make an entertaining show (by having a movie star as the host, for instance) and people who aren’t gun nuts will watch it.

  17. Chris W. – good idea. Of course, that’s what competition shooting is supposed to be in the first place, right? Take your idea, and give it some additional context and it has a lot of potential. For instance, the people in the challenge could be a group of dorky gun bloggers who have just been through an intense weekend with Todd Jarrett at Blackwater. (heh heh) Or maybe a group of women who are just shooting IDPA for the first time. Or maybe bring a group of city-slickers/yankees, dress them up like cowboys, and get them shooting SASS. Instead of everyone saying “we had a good time” and ending the show, the “contestants” ought to compete against each other for a prize of some kind.

    I was joking about the reality-tv style “drama”… but look at shows like “America’s Next Fill-in-the-blank”. They take dull concepts, add some drama, good narration, and decent production, and end up with an entertaining show.

  18. ExurbanKevin and Frank James are right. For shooting-oriented shows to get a wider audience they need to incorporate drama and characterization. The audience needs to have a competitor to identify with, and certainly many of the traditional sports tropes can be applied to competitive shooters; Miculek is the old hand with experience and skill going up against up-and-coming younger shooters, find some scrappy upstart kid who’s on his way but still has hurdles to overcome. You could generate drama with the whole “woman competitor in a man’s world” angle by following someone like Julie Golob or Tasha Hanish.

    Also, the shooting matches need to have a higher level of production and art direction as well. A chase camera is ok, but half the time the RO is in the way, and it’s difficult to get a decent camera angle because of safety issues. (This is evident in nearly all IPSC/3Gun videos.)

    Producers should be looking at NASCAR or other single-competitor non-team sports to see how they’re shot. Downhill skiing, motorcycle racing, and even Olympic gymnastics are shot in ways that are dynamic and engaging.

    To approach the same level of visual interest for action shooting sports, you will have to have a multiple-camera setup. Here’s what I would do:

    1.) Chase camera operated by a guy with a steadicam.
    2.) Camera mounted on the competitor or his gun. (Helmet cam, gun cam.)
    3.) Two or three static cameras mounted at particularly interesting points in the course of fire, pointing up range and stationed to capture “hero shots” of the competitor as they engage targets. These could be mounted high or low, on various props or in/near a no-shoot. But out of the most likely line of fire. Cameras that could be inexpensively replaced would be the best bet, on the off chance that someone drills one.
    4.) Football-style overhead cable-cam. Bird’s-eye view of the CoF with the ability to follow the shooter as they navigate the course of fire.

    Major sporting events today are all covered live, with multiple cameras. To do this live, all of the cameras on the field would have to broadcast a signal back to someone running a control board who could pick the most interesting camera angle available. (I’ve simplified this quite a bit. If you want, go take a tour of your local TV station and see what all goes on in the control room during a broadcast.)

    If the event isn’t going to be broadcast live, then all you need to do is dump the video from the cameras onto a computer, log the software, and edit it into a coherent story. This is time-consuming but necessary.

    As for keeping track of scoring, that would be a big challenge, as you’d need a way to verify scores. Either by having a camera operator follow through in the scoring phase, getting it on camera for reference use later, or by some sort of remote sensing technology like that used in the electronic targets at the Olympics.

    Steel, of course, does away with the need for this. There’s instant visual and auditory feedback as to whether the target was hit or not, which is yet another potential area to generate drama and interest with the audience.

  19. If you’ve ever seen them, the side-by-side video shots of Olympic downhill ski competitions that track how each skier approaches their run are really, really cool and would be very applicable to USPSA TV broadcasts, though it may be a bit too much money for them to do.

  20. When I had cable I watched the shows for a while then stopped because they took so long to get to the point. Ermey’s shows are interesting, but 2.5X as long as they need to be. Don’t make me spend 60 minutes to get the 20 minutes of real show.

    I’d suggest a variety of offerings, different theme each week. Make them entertaining, put enough fluff in to keep the newbies tuned in, and enough detail to keep the more skilled interested, which will be the real challenge, because while you need to lure beginners, eventually newbies aren’t anymore. Any show can have some smiling guy who speaks at 3 single-syllable words an hour, but the viewership won’t stay around long. I’ll spend my time where it earns its keep.

    And, MAKE THE SHOWS AVAILABLE ON THE INTERNET!! Some of don’t have cable or satellite and may never have it.

  21. Well after reviewing all the comments I think I’ve got it. A reality show based around the Sniper Babes. Take them through a full series from beginning gun safety training through competion shooting against each other. They could shoot different styles and feature the weapons we all want to use or buy in the near future. Have them taught by the leading shooters in the industry. Create women and kids only shooting events where people can learn without feeling like one giant advertisement. And no, they don’t have to wear swimsuits to make the point. Standard shooting attire would be fine.

    It has everything but the interpersonal conflict of a standard reality show. Sniper Babes hate drama and personal conflict! I know there are lots of women out there who want to shoot but have never had the opportunity. It’s time for a REAL change in tv firearms programming.

    Of course streamed through the internet as well as on tv would be great. The more places it’s seen the better.

  22. We need a gunnie version of BBCA’s “Top Gear”.

    It’s a car show with wide appeal because it’s entertaining.


  23. “Well after reviewing all the comments I think I’ve got it. A reality show based around the Sniper Babes. Take them through a full series from beginning gun safety training…”

    ……. mehbee that’d cure the finger on the trigger violations in the calendars?

    I don’t watch TV (I spend what time I have reading, both Internet and dead tree), so I can’t really say what I’d do to get people watch TV…..

  24. I think Frank James, ExurbanKevin, and Jbomultigun are all onto something, and I personally would suggest a show that followed a particular woman shooter, or a group of them, through a competition season. The fellas will watch for the obvious reasons, and the ladies will watch to see women competing on even footing in a traditionally male-dominated sport. Lots of drama right there.

    The format of the show could simply be to have each TV season follow the shooter(s) through a competition season, and get into the details of just how much work and practice goes into the preparation for each competition, and then have the last segment of the episode show highlights of courses of fire, both the good and the bad runs. Here you have the natural drama of tons of preparation without a guaranteed outcome, and the occasional heartbreaking loss.

    A perfect example of the highlights possible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=240rtSRTkag

    I’d watch that show.

  25. I think there needs to be a reason to watch. Think about all the action movies and TV shows. Why do they shoot things?

    There needs to be some kind of a plot for the shooting stage. “Walk over to this plywood square and shoot this black circle, then walk to the blue barrel and shoot the black square, then…” Booooooring. It’s not a TV show, it’s someone with a camera watching a sporting event that isn’t interesting to watch.

    Each contest should be a different theme. Something like this is a good start: http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2009/11/05/halloween-shotgun-match-in-arizona-with-mhi-action/

    But there needs to be more then an imaginary background. The shooter can imagine the cardboard target is a zombie, or the Texas star is a tentacled monster from the dimension of fear and loathing, but the viewers? There need to be props, scenery, wardrobe.

    Something like 24 meets X-files meets Terminator meets Godzilla meets Jason – but everybody has a gun instead of negotiating or sending that college chick in her underwear up to the attic to check on that weird noise. Targets need to be better than paper. Reactive targets, that look like bad guys or monsters. Maybe balloons filled with red or green fake blood in the vitals of the target, or something. Think of the coolest hollywood monster costumes, now imagine them being reactive targets. Tentacles pressurized with colored water, so when you shoot them, they “bleed out” and go limp. Fun stuff like that. (There could even be a behind-the-scenes part of the show, where they show how the monsters and targets are made, etc.)

    There need to be teams we care about. Not just “here’s a guy in a Bushmaster jersey with a Bushmaster hat and dark sunglasses. Now here’s a guy in a Remington jersey and Remington hat with dark sunglasses.” Every successful show has a protagonist we care about. We need to see who they are (both as shooters, and as characters in each “episode”). No more dark sunglasses, and no more big earmuffs. Get them some earplugs (we should see that they are wearing earplugs, for safety, but they should also look like people, not covered in strange lumps). Character development. Competition. Eliminate teams during the “season” and have them competing for some big prize at the end.

    Tracers would be cool too, so we can see where the bullets are going. Like in football, where they highlight the line, or in hockey where they draw a circle around the puck? Make it easier for people to follow what’s happening. Otherwise, there’s some banging, and nothing is happening. Meh. If the audience could see where the bullets were going, it could be really exciting. Even a computer being able to track the bullets and draw a fake tracer would be beneficial.

    I’d also like to see some commentary by real, respected instructors. “Look at this replay, see here where he flinched? He needs more practice with a .22 before he can improve. See here where he sticks his leg out of cover, in the force-on-force level, he would have been eliminated.”

    Speaking of which, I’d like to see some force-on-force games too. Simunitions or airsoft, MILES maybe. Lots of cameras covering different angles. Instructors giving commentary. Each team playing a role. Maybe even re-enacting scenes from famous action movies. “Let’s see if Team Wolverines can liberate this gulag at the drive-in theater, while Team Serenity plays the Cubans!” Teams that lose a challenge would have to play hostages in the next scenario. Whatever.

    There are tons of ways to improve shooting TV. Producers, gimme a call!

  26. Oh hell, why not step into this?

    WARNING! Long Post!

    First, a quickie resume — I produce 4 shows for OUTDOOR CHANNEL — SHOOTING GALLERY, COWBOYS, THE BEST DEFENSE and THE BEST DEFENSE/SURVIVAL — and serve as Executive Producer for DOWNRANGE Television (www.downrange.tv) on the Internet. My shows are the highest-rated shooting shows ever; I am the only shooting show producer to ever win a Telly (essentially cable Emmys), and I have 3 cute little statues. My shows have won an additional 3 awards from NSSF, not in the “trade” category, where other shooting/outdoor shows tend to enter because the competition is so light, but in the “commercial” category against ESPN, VERSUS, etc. I have yet another statue named COWBOYS as “one of the best cowboy shows ever.” I have 3 more shows in the pipeline for 2010 and 2011.

    My production company, Flying Dragon, is also unique in other ways:

    • We are the ONLY company who mentions products and services from people who are not advertisers — let me reemphasize that…the ONLY company out there.
    • Everyone who works on my shows pull the trigger…it’s a job requirement, I don’t use “pick-up” crews who were filming weddings yesterday and a Food Channel special tomorrow.
    • I am the only show producer who has been (and still is) a serious competitive shooter. There are a couple of hunters out there, but other than me no one who has stood on the line and waited for the beep.
    • My shows have received commendations from LEOs at all levels, and many of the episodes are used as training tools for agencies.
    • We have featured some of the top instructors in the world, including Col. Jeff Cooper, Walt Rauch, John Farnam, Bill Rogers, Tom Givens, Ken Hackathorn, Wes Doss, Bill Murphy, Gene “Evil Roy” Pearcey, the instructional staff of GUNSITE, the staff of the SIG Academy, the staff of Blackwater/U.S. Training, Dave Sevigny, Todd Jarrett, and on and on. We have featured master gunsmiths like Hamilton Bowen, Bill Wilson, Bill Laughridge, Doug Turnbull, etc.
    • THE BEST DEFENSE has pioneered Hollywood-type filming of the best, worst and most likely cases in self-defense scenarios.

    That said, I have not found a way to make shooting competitions work for television. I tried a challenge (and Frank J., you’ll remember this debacle) where I invited 6 top shooters to GUNSITE for a tough series of shooting challenges. Suffice to say that after the event I called VPs at gun companies to tell them their “professional” cadre did them a disservice. I was offered a large sum of money by the sponsors to reprise the challenge event, and I refused.

    Standard matches are a nightmare to cover because there were not designed with television in mind. Television always slows down or breaks the “rhythm” of the match. the match, which is not popular with shooters or match organizers. We have used downrange cameras and flying “jibs” — cameras on extended articulated arms — and the shooters complained bitterly about the “distractions.”

    I think we did as good a job covering the Steel Challenge as anybody has done, because we tried to focus on the personalities…yes, that is what people want to see. After the first year, when we wired Todd Jarrett for the entire match, not a single shooter would allow us to wire them. Period. Exclamation POINT! Frankly, I just got tired of all those wonderful representatives of our sports calling me an asshole, a stupid bastard out to wreck shooting competition and — my personal favorite — threatening to kill me.

    The last straw came after OC ponied up $30K as a contingency prize at the Steel Challenge…as some of you remember, I was flayed alive on the competition boards for choosing an “impossible” number so I wouldn’t have to give away the money. Yes, it was a 4 minute mile, but now it’s an established fact. My idea in putting up the biggest pistol purse ever was to make the winner the most famous shooter in America…that never came to pass and not because of anything on our parts. OC received zero additional publicity or “bennies” from the investment (not even a “thank you”) and I got spanked and told never to do it again, The next year the sanctioning body welched on our long-standing deal and I pulled out of the match.

    A few years back on SG we did a multi-part tactical training challenge…on the actual assault, we rented the best sim facility in the country, used 9 cameras (including gun-mount and following cams, plus fixed cams and three crews working on the catwalks with the big gun HD cams…it was beautiful…and the shows pulled the lowest numbers of the season. Ouchies! I had a show with the working title of Force-On-Force Games (honest!) ready to go, but the tanking of the SG episodes harpooned that idea big time.

    Interestingly enough, whenever we put juniors/kids on teevee, all the people who tell me that they want to see more juniors/kids on teevee don’t just walk, but SPRINT to the remote control! I’ve got the numbers to prove it, and believe me, I answer for it when one of my shows, which make a ton of money, tanks.

    I’d like to suggest turing this question around…if you want better coverage of the shooting sports, it has to start with the shooters. If they don’t 100% want us there, we’ll never get a good show out of it. Second, the sanctioning organizations need to understand that if they want television, they have to work with us to MAKE it work. They also need to understand that a deal is indeed a deal…if I can’t trust their word, I won’t play. When they promise my crews a certain level of support and that doesn’t materialize on the day of the match (as happened twice this year), we’re not going to be coming back the next year. If you tell me I am the only crew at the match, and I get there and all my competitors are busily filming….well, we’ll have a big time partying after the match, but I don’t like being lied to very much. Again, I won’t be back.

    Shooting sports shows are consistently the lowest-rated of our shows. I keep doing them because 1) I’m apparently an idiot (that might be my bosses’ conclusion) or 2) I’m a competitor, and I think it’s important to put this stuff on television.

    Sorry to rant, but this is what I do for a living. If there was a way I could make my shows better at a budget that wouldn’t cause my taskmasters to fall over in a dead swoon, do you think I wouldn’t do it?

    RE: Internet, that’s a hellish set of contract conditions between the network, its affiliates, cable and satellite systems, foreign planets, household appliances and God knows what else…I’ve been trying for the last 4 years to make that happen…I got within 48 hours of launching old SG episodes on line before a contract dispute whacked it. The plan is my new shows, which are being run through a time-buy set-up with OC, will appear on the Internet 8 days after they air.


    Michael Bane

  27. One thing that I think will help with coverage of the shooting sports is the new generation of professional shooters. Younger guys that have grown up in the TV/Internet and “OMFG MEDIA NOW” info overload era will (hopefully) be more friendly to television integrating itself into the shooting sports.

  28. Please, please PLEASE (pretty please?) don’t take my snark about the OC and it’s producers as anything aimed (Pun not intended. Much.) at your shows, Michael: I listen to the podcast every week and I can’t WAIT until Cox Cable finally opens up the OC in my area. From all I can tell, your shows are the ones that other channels should look to if they want fun, enjoyable AND entertaining firearms programming on the boob tube.

  29. I suppose I should temper my comments above with the caveat that I’ve never seen a shooting TV show. I didn’t know they existed. I don’t buy cable, and there’s only one broadcast station in town (a re-broadcaster from a town 80 miles away, so it’s fuzzy and I don’t bother to watch it).

    Anything I do watch, I watch on Hulu.

    So my comments come from someone who has been in shooting competitions but never seen one on TV.

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