By Matthew Belloni
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Will Discovery reel in its missing "Deadliest Catch" captains?
As filming is set to begin next week on the show's seventh season, the network issued a statement Monday revealing that the Cornelia Marie, the fishing boat captained by the late Phil Harris, will return this season with sons Josh and Jake Harris on board as deckhands.
But absent from the statement were popular "Catch" co-stars Capts. Sig Hansen and Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand, who quit the Emmy-nominated reality series last week in the wake of a $3 million lawsuit Discovery filed against the Hillstrands for allegedly failing to complete work on a planned spin-off special.
Discovery, Hansen and the Hillstrands all have declined to comment since the "Catch" co-stars told The Hollywood Reporter last week that they were "unable" to continue with the show due to "the current situation with Discovery." The silence suggests the two sides are at least talking about a possible settlement of the lawsuit that would pave the way for the trio to return to the show.
But the clock is ticking because the last of the "Catch" boats is scheduled to leave for Dutch Harbor, Alaska, by October 15 to take advantage of king crab season in the Bering Sea.
The stakes are high for Discovery. Without Hansen, the Hillstrands or Capt. Phil Harris, who died in February, the network risks damaging one of its biggest franchises. Ratings for the show's sixth season were way up from Season 5, with a record 8.5 million viewers tuning in to a July episode featuring Harris' on-camera death.
Discovery likely hopes that the Harris kids can fill the void of Capt. Phil Harris, but hit reality series often find that a major casting change can be, well, deadly.
"Our dad made a tremendous connection with so many fans, and it is such a fitting tribute to his life that we, his sons, can remain fishing on the boat that he skippered for so many years," Josh and Jake Harris said in the statement.
Capt. Derrick Ray, who replaced Phil Harris as skipper last season, is returning as captain along with engineer Steve Ward and deckhands Freddie Maughtai and Ryan Simpson. Last season, the show added another new captain, Bill Wichrowski, and his boat, the Kodiak.