Out of the Brook, Into the Tank
A connection made on his first day as a Stony Brook student led to Brett Raymer’s reality TV stardom years later.
Although it was more than two decades ago, the time Brett Raymer spent at Stony Brook University is partly responsible for his current success as co-star of Animal Planet’s hit television show “Tanked.” However, the path he took from undergraduate student to reality show celebrity took some interesting turns.
Born in Brooklyn, Raymer, 43, grew up in Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach. He attended Stony Brook from 1988 through 1990, he says, because he wanted to stay relatively close to home and childhood friends. “It was a hop, skip and a jump from home, from the city, from the Hamptons,” which made it ideal, Raymer recalls.
He lived on campus for three years, first in Kelly Quad, playing on the football team under Sam Kornhauser’s coaching, and majoring in liberal arts. Initially, “I wanted to study law, so I took political science classes, anthropology and philosophy,” Raymer says. “It was a really great life experience.”
He speaks fondly of the close, lifelong friendships he made during his time there. Back then, little did he know that a chance meeting on campus with a fellow student would forever alter Raymer’s future. “It’s not what I learned [at Stony Brook]; it was who I met,” he says.
“My first day I met a guy named Joel Brown,” who was from Peekskill, New York, Raymer says. “We hit it off right away.” The two became best buds and as the years passed, they remained close — even after 1994, when tired of the snow and cold winters, Raymer moved out to Las Vegas, where his father, Irwin, had relocated years earlier to retire.
Part of Irwin Raymer’s plan for his retirement home included an aquarium, so he had called in an expert: Wayde King, now 46, who’d been raised around Commack and East Northport, Long Island, before his own relocation to Las Vegas. Eventually, Irwin became not only King’s client, but also his father-in-law. His marriage to Heather Raymer led to their business partnership at Acrylic Tank Manufacturing (ATM), a company that designs, manufactures and installs custom aquarium systems. When Brett Raymer moved to Vegas a few years later, he joined the company as COO.
King says that it can be challenging working alongside family members — his wife Heather handles the books; his father-in-law Irwin, known around the office as “The General,” is in charge of legal and finances; and brother-in-law Brett is a gregarious, larger-than-life personality.
“Business has been fishy,” jokes King, “but good.” He cites a shaky economy as the source of ups and downs, but overall ATM — in existence for more than 14 years — is doing well.
Over the years, King and Brett Raymer have developed a love/hate dynamic, but it’s fairly superficial, says King. The two have a deep affection for each other, he insists, although he constantly takes jabs at his COO.
“He doesn’t do anything. He gets away with murder,” he jests in regard to Raymer’s sales and marketing responsibilities.
“Shut up, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Raymer shoots back.
It’s that relentless repartee that inspired a reality show.
“Someone said, ‘You guys are funny. You should be on TV.’ So I turned to Brett and said, ‘You don’t do anything. Get us on TV,’ ” recalls King.
“That’s kind of the story,” interjects Raymer, who clarifies that he was always walking around the office telling anyone within earshot that they had a reality show in the making at ATM. Still, it took years to get it off the ground, especially since neither King nor Raymer had any experience or connections in television. At least they thought they didn’t.
Exceprt from "Tanked" : Brett and Wayde reveal a custom-built Houdini-themed fish tank to client Neil Patrick Harris.
Once the idea for a reality show took form in his mind, Raymer contacted the film department at the University of Nevada for advice. That led to pitching the concept to a slew of local production companies. Finally, one bit and shot a pilot.
“We signed a one-year contract with them,” Raymer says, but nothing happened. “They put it on the back burner. I kept calling and calling asking what’s going on with the show. They were supposed to be pitching it to the networks,” he explains, but he was told repeatedly that it had been rejected. As time passed, Raymer’s enthusiasm waned, so he put the pilot DVD into a drawer and let it collect dust — for months.
Enter old Stony Brook pal Joel Brown — the one Raymer had met on that very first day on campus. Brown connected with Raymer one day over the Internet to tell him he was thinking of moving out to Vegas. The reality show idea came up in conversation, and sensing Raymer’s frustration at finding a home for it, Brown took a look.
“Bro, that’s a hit show,” he told Raymer, and suggested they send the pilot to his buddy Mike Skouras, who at the time was employed as a producer at Fox News. Skouras was friends with Nancy Glass, a six-time Emmy award-winning television host, writer and producer who runs a reality show production company. In no time, Nancy Glass Productions sold “Tanked” to Animal Planet, a part of Discovery Network.
The rest, as they say in show business, is history. Airing Fridays at 10 pm, “Tanked” began its third season in March with 1.6 million viewers. The show is taped throughout most of the year, with the two traveling all over the country to create large-scale, sometimes over-the-top fish tanks.
Last season King and Raymer were on Long Island to build a refrigerator aquarium for the Babylon Village appliance dealer Plessers. For last season’s premiere, they built an elaborate aquarium for MTV’s “Jackass” producer Jeff Tremaine. They’ve created tanks that resemble pyramids, phone booths, cars and beer kegs for private clients as well as restaurants, casinos, banks, hotels, churches, corporate offices, museums and zoos. Their craziest request to date: a unicorn tank.
“We can do it, but [because of all of the elaborate acrylic work] it’ll cost a few million dollars,” says King. A typical ATM aquarium runs between $15,000 and $100,000. “People don’t think price tag. They just have an idea,” he says, adding that the public doesn’t realize how much work is involved when you have a family [they each have two children], run a business and tape a reality show at the same time. Raymer says it’s easier for him because unlike King, who has to be in the office dealing with mail, bills and other daily responsibilities, he can work on his laptop wherever they go. But the time commitment is draining: For every 44 minutes of filming, they have to shoot for 60 to 80 hours. The pair says criteria for selecting the aquarium projects — which typically come into ATM via hundreds of emails from potential customers — include a creative theme for the tank, a great background story pertaining to the client, and of course, a budget.
But none of these would likely be taken into account if ATM’s fantasy project ever came to fruition: a custom-built aquarium at the White House. Perhaps Stony Brook would shortly follow.
— By Claudia Gryvatz Copquin