NEW YORK - Watching

Tougher in Alaska

, you might find yourself thinking several things:

How the tasks (gold mining, salmon fishing, railroading) aren't just hard, they're difficult in ways you never imagined, and being in Alaska makes them even tougher.

How the people devoted to each pursuit are really good at it.

How you're kind of grateful you're not them.

The last response may be inevitable for a not-so-tough couch potato watching from TV's comfy remove.

Tougher in Alaska

makes a strong case that the work it documents is taxing, risky - and cold!

But the people who do it seem to love it, and to love the vast, untamed frontier embracing them in the 49th state.

Geo (short for George) Beach loves it, too. He's your rough-and-tumble guide for the series (airing 10 p.m. Thursdays on History). And he brings been-there-done-that authority to his hosting role.

An Alaskan for a quarter-century, he has been a logger, firefighter and commercial fisherman. He's at home around construction sites and oil spills.

The write stuff

"That's how I paid for my writing habit," says Beach, a former New Englander who, in Alaska, found a rich source of material for the commentaries and essays he turns out for various publications, Web sites and public radio.

Add to his qualifications the booming voice, chrome dome and overgrown-kid gusto, and Beach was a natural to make the jump to TV to showcase the state he calls, with proud accentuation, "Uh-LAHHSSSS-kuh."

This week, Beach joined power company workers as they faced fearsome snow loads, high winds, and subzero temperatures to keep electricity flowing through lines constantly susceptible to the unforgiving weather. Among his chores: helping to install power poles and string electrical wire by hand in the remote village of Kasigluk, where bucket trucks are unavailable.

Future episodes tackle road building, policing and waste disposal, Alaska style.

Tougher in Alaska

joins a growing genre most easily labeled Tough TV. In this category, testosterone reigns supreme as men (and a scattering of women) clash with nature (

Man vs. Wild

on Discovery), other tough guys (Spike's

The Ultimate Fighter

), or tasks so yucky only tough guys wouldn't lose their breakfast (Discovery's

Dirty Jobs


It's real life

Deadliest Catch, in its third hit season on Discovery, focuses on crab fishing in the Bering Sea off the Alaska coast.

And mark your calendar for summer 2009, when NBC plans to air

Shark Taggers


Bottom line: Viewers will be toughing it out for some time to come.

Even so, Beach doesn't want anybody mistaking

Tougher in Alaska

as an expo for daredevilry and life-or-death bouts in the great outdoors.

"We're not kickboxing bears up here. This is not a carnival sideshow," he declares during a recent phone call from his home "at the unnumbered end of Lookout Drive."

"Other shows may be about jobs," he goes on. "But up here, a job is more than something you clock into at 9 and clock out of at 5. The work is part of a lifestyle, and part of a community, of a whole sense of place . . .

"When the cameras go away and viewers click off their TV sets, these guys that I've been out with are still toughing it out in Alaska," Beach says.

"And I'm still here, too."