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Issue: February 2014

Still Tanked, and Spreading the Love (Full Article)

Author: Matt Haviland


Photographer: Animal Planet
Animal Planet’s hit show, Tanked, is back for another season. TFH’s cub reporter catches up with the popular series and some of the tanks Brett and Wayde have created for their clientele, including some well-known celebrities.

”The World Leader in custom aquarium manufacturing”; there’s something about that slogan that sounds inadequate. Following the success of their Animal PlanetTM series, Tanked—which has brought outrageous fish tanks across the world and into the homes of viewers in 200 countries—the Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM) has become the Orange County Choppers of aquariums, or perhaps the West Coast Customs.
 
Success Stories
Never mind that co-owners Wayde King and Brett Raymer installed a flatscreen television under water for their first broadcast (or that this fall saw a special episode featuring client requests deemed especially crazy in the wake of doughnut-shaped, slot-machine-spinning, RV-fashioned tanks). These waters go deeper than that. Episodes offer attention-grabbing feats of aquarism that resurrect the tradition of Pimp My Ride host Xzibit, who walked into living rooms and changed lives with fully-customized automotive spectacles based on old hunks of junk. Except instead of (not) driving away with a new car, Tanked viewers are given the keys to a lifelong passion they might have never discovered.
This is the show that supplied Academy of Magical Arts president Neal Patrick Harris with sabretooth barracudas and other dangerous aquatic predators swimming around a submerged Harry Houdini in a photorealistic reproduction of his classic Water Torture Cell. (The tank was installed at the world-famous Hollywood Magic Castle for its 50th anniversary celebration in a velvet lounge area you might expect to have seen after walking through the grainy film of a circus marquee in Berlin, 1912.) Stunts like these have always been to get the hobby back in the spotlight. To show kids that fish can be cool.
The show has benefitted from an outpouring of specialized interest through the desert and over the hills in Hollywood. This past season has chronicled the re-emerging trend of celebrity fish fanciers. A whole episode, “Lifestyles of the Fish & Famous,” was devoted to Wayde and Brett reminiscing about their high-exposure clients. Among the celebrities for 2013 were Jackass creator Jeffrey Tremaine, NBA star Dwayne Wade, and Betty White. Some stars couldn’t wait to come back, either. Fresh off last year’s episode—where ATM explored the comedian’s home aquariums and built him a shark tank—30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan called them in once again to fashion a residence for his favorite octopus, Bwyadette.
 
 Criticisms
There have been hurdles, though. Since the show’s inception, serious aquarists have criticized Tanked for what seem like careless practices implied by a streamlined structure. Episodes gloss over steps like cycling and water testing and can portray the introduction of fish as a televised race against time—focusing on peripheral aspects of aquarism and making the hobby look overly simple to inexperienced viewers. However, you shouldn’t hold that against them. Wayde and Brett are also hardcore hobbyists, but have minimal control over Tanked beyond the filming process. As they and co-star Heather King explained at 2012’s Marine Aquarium Conference of North America, many of the show’s events are taken out of context as one week of footage is edited into each hour-long episode.
Going strong beyond its third season, Tanked has fulfilled its mission to bring aquarium-keeping back into the spotlight. As expected, however, that surge in enthusiasm has carried with it some naive beginners. During broadcast seasons, ATM employees process over one hundred requests every day from people who don’t realize how expensive aquariums can be. But just as the show guides viewers into the hobby, Acrylic Tank Manufacturing guides beginners toward conscientious fishkeeping.
 
Fulfilling an Important Niche
With great success comes greater space requirements. ATM has recently opened their second retail location, a 34,000-square-foot store in Florida. As for the show, Wayde King says that the next 20 episodes will feature 80 aquariums—70 being their trademark special editions, such as the soda machine tank commissioned by Miami’s Reeftop Aquariums, which should help battle the Florida heat with fish gazing and refreshments.
Whereas high-concept roadsters from other shows might vanish from the highways—or be glimpsed escaping into the night somewhere—long after audiences have forgotten about the flatscreen televisions hidden in the trunk, one can easily imagine a cross-country trip to visit the tanks created by Animal Planet’s monkey wrench aquarists. If viewers want to see Cleopatra’s sarcophagus tank in the Catskill Mountains, those watery columns announcing “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” at the IBOC megachurch in Dallas, or the tanks at Alabama’s upcoming Bass Fishing Hall of Fame (to be featured in an upcoming episode), they can. And then they might be inspired to design their own. There’s much more to it than building a tank that doubles as a slot machine, pulling the lever, and then waiting for fish to appear. But inspiration is inspiration—as surely as fish can soothe customers in a Las Vegas tattoo parlor or keep the greatest magician of all time company as he slumbers in Hollywood.

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