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Animal Planet's 'Hillbilly Handfishin' ': Using the old noodle

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 10:22 PM

Animal Planet - the network about things people do for, and to, animals - announced Tuesday that it had ordered a reality series in which city slickers pay good money to go to Oklahoma to noodle.

"Noodling" is hillbilly for "catching catfish with your hands." Don't take my word for it - Animal Planet is calling the series "Hillbilly Handfishin' ."

The show, Animal Planet explains, stars "self-proclaimed hillbilly" Skipper Bivins, who, for a price, takes silly city slickers out and teaches them how to catch catfish with their bare hands.

Hairy Old-Guy Chests Alert: In most of the photos of Bivins floating around the Web - he's apparently the rock star of noodlers - and in those sent to us by Animal Planet, he is shirtless. It's not pretty.

Anyway, Oklahoma appears to be one of the states in which noodling is legal as of 2008, according to the fine folk at askcatfishfishing.com. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was sorry to tell us that it had no idea in which states noodling is okay and in which it isn't because it's a state-by-state issue. According to a 2008 post on askcatfishfishing.com, if you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma or Tennessee - noodle away! Anywhere else, no noodling.

Flathead catfish are easy targets because they live in murky holes in rivers and lakes. When catfish are spawning, they like to find nice, murky holes in which to lay their eggs. The male catfish then thinks he's got the easy assignment, standing guard over the future generation.

All you have to do is find that murky hole, then stick your hand in it. The daddy catfish will probably swim forward and latch onto your hand as a defensive maneuver. If the fish is large enough, the noodler can hook his or her hand around the fish's gills, then you yank out your arm. (Usually a noodler has at least one spotter who helps bring in the fish, which seems like cheating but apparently isn't.) Reading up on the fine art of noodling, we were conscious of a passing pang for the catfish, feeling that life for these unfortunate animals must be one thing after another.

So Daddy Catfish hands in his dinner pail while trying to guard the roost. Everybody wins! Except the occasional noodler who gets a finger bitten off, or drowns after getting his body stuck in the murky hole while trying to shove his arm down a catfish, which, frankly, seems like as good a way to decrease the surplus population as any.

Animal Planet plans to unleash "Hillbilly Handfishin' " on the public in August, but the network actually premiered the pilot for this series way back on Sept. 24 and averaged 630,000 viewers - 44 percent better than the year-ago time-slot average. Two encores of the pilot copped even bigger crowds: 653,000 viewers Dec. 9 and 722,000 viewers Dec. 22.

Noodling was also featured in a 2003 episode of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs," though it's unclear what the "job" part was. More recently, noodling was a story line in an episode of ABC's comedy series "Cougar Town," in which Bobby and Travis went on a dad-son noodling-bonding trip.

"Hillbilly Handfishin' " is produced by Half Yard Productions, which also produces "American Loggers" for Discovery Network and "Say Yes to the Dress" for Discovery's TLC network.

NBC pickups

NBC announced Tuesday that it had picked up three reality series: fat-farm show "The Biggest Loser," the genealogy show "Who Do You Think You Are?" and the singing competition "The Sing-Off" for the 2011-12 TV season.

NBC's new entertainment division chairman, Bob Greenblatt, called all three shows "bona fide hits" in the announcement - he apparently being of the "if you say it often enough, people believe it to be true" school of show marketing, like so many NBC programming chiefs who went before him.

The current edition of "The Biggest Loser" is averaging about 3.3 percent of the country's 18-to-49-year-olds - they're the bread and butter of broadcast TV - and about 9 million viewers overall.

The latest edition of "Who Do You Think You Are?" is averaging 1.4 percent of the country's 18-to-49-year-olds and 7 million viewers overall.

And this season's cycle of "The Sing-Off" averaged about 3 percent of the country's 18-to-49-year-olds and 9.2 million viewers overall.

For comparison's sake - so you can see what real hits look like - the most recent edition of ABC's dance-competition series, "Dancing With the Stars," averaged more than 21 million viewers and nearly 5 percent of the country's 18-to-49-year-olds.

And Fox's singing-competition ratings monster, "American Idol," on Wednesdays averages 26.3 million viewers and nearly 10 percent of the country's 18-to-49-year-olds.

Walters vs. Hahn

Babs Walters went mano a mano Tuesday with Jessica Hahn on "The View."

All this week, the Ladies of "The View," as a February-sweeps public service, attempt to answer the nagging question that has been keeping you up at night: What the heck ever happened to Amber Frey, Paula Jones, Kato Kaelin, Jessica Hahn and John Bobbitt?

Tuesday was Jessica Hahn Day on the ABC morning gabfest. Hahn's the one who, "The View" reminded us, had a "sexual encounter" with televangelist Jim Bakker - a story that broke in the '80s.

But during the show, when Sherri Shepherd asked Hahn about her "affair" with Bakker, Hahn took issue, noting that she had not had an affair with Bakker and that "affair" is what "The View's" Mother Superior had with Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Mass.) while working as a journalist at ABC News - as Babs had noted in her autobiography.

"This is about you, my dear," Babs interrupted. "This is not about me, okay?"

Hahn: "But what I want to say - " she tried to go on.

"I don't want to talk about my relationship," Babs continued to sniff indignantly. "This is about you."

Hahn: "But what I'm going to say is my situation was - "

"And where are we now?" Babs sneered, interrupting Hahn a third time, which has gotta be some kind of record, even on "The View."

"Where we are now is that I had an encounter. It was 15 minutes in a hotel," Hahn finally managed to get in, despite Walters's indignant huffing and puffing. It seemed Hahn had won the round.

"This was consensual or nonconsensual?" Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked, to keep the interview moving.

"It was not consensual," Hahn responded.

"He said it was," Babs interjected, but not with any real chirpiness.

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