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'Coal' digs into the lives of miners

Nigh shift mechanic/roof bolter Joe Pack was a

Nigh shift mechanic/roof bolter Joe Pack was a truck driver for more than 20 years before becoming a miner three years ago. Joe is one of the miners featured in Spike's new docu-reality series "Coal" premiering on Wednesday, March 30 at 10 PM, ET/PT Credit: Matt Powers/Original Productions/Matt Powers

"Miners carve a hard living out of solid rock" is how narrator Jeremy Sisto introduces the coal country of West Virginia's McDowell County.

Our first hour is spent largely 600 feet underground, beneath a 3 1 / 2-foot roof, with a "40-foot, 50-ton beast" machine called a continuous miner grinding away at veins of coal twisting through mountain rock. Men don't wield pickaxes anymore. In pillar mining, a "guru" who's got "the feel" massages the machine to carve a 20-foot-square "cut," after which roof bolters move in to secure the ceiling over crew members' heads.

Above ground, the small-business owners of this Cobalt Coal mine first fret over making enough "cuts" to cover payroll, then face a surprise state inspection that leaves them scrambling.

MY SAY "Coal" opens up yet another male working world where danger and drudgery alternate daily. This premiere hour supplies mining information fast and furious, in a tumble of numbers of tons and trucks and money that's bound to open the eyes of (sub) urban viewers far removed from these dingy doings.

Fascinating as all that is, next week has to deliver something different. That's when we'll see whether "Coal" can fuel a lengthy run like "Catch" has. These miners initially seem internally driven, though a couple discuss their lives with appealing plainspokenness. "All my family's coal miners. It's all we have down here in West Virginia," says night bolter Hank Toler. "There's no other jobs. You either got coal mining or flippin' burgers, and I'm not no burger man."

Next-week promos tease a storm that floods the mine, but let's hope "Coal" adds context to its action. These men's home lives, hunting trips and "no other jobs" environs are begging to be explored.

BOTTOM LINE Producer Beers' team is the gold standard in male-aimed reality, and these guys have grit to burn.


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