ABC to launch controversial wartime `reality' show
by Steve Gorman, Reuters, 20 Feb 2002
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The U.S. war on terrorism will soon come to prime-time television as a new ABC "reality" show called "Profiles From the Front Line," with the help of the Pentagon and Hollywood action king Jerry Bruckheimer, the Disney-owned network said Wednesday.
The program, which will focus on the stories of ordinary men and women in uniform, is being produced with the "unparalleled support and cooperation of the Defense Department," the network said in announcing the show slated for summer airing.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "signed off" on the project without reservation, said Bertram van Munster, who will serve as an executive producer of the series with Bruckheimer.
But some critics immediately questioned whether the 13-part weekly series blurred the line between entertainment and news and whether it would become a U.S. military "infomercial."
While ABC said the program will "transport viewers to actual battlefields around the globe," van Munster told Reuters it remains to be seen just how close to combat the hour-long show will get. "I'm discussing all these issues with the Pentagon," Van Munster said.
The program promises to take the genre of non-scripted TV to a new level, combining the talents of one of Hollywood's biggest producers with a pioneer of the "reality" genre.
Bruckheimer produced such military movie hits as "Top Gun," "Pearl Harbor" and "Black Hawk Down." Van Munster was a producer and cameraman for eight years on the Fox series "Cops" and now produces the CBS reality show "Amazing Race."
HOLLYWOOD AT WAR
Announcement of the show comes amid a new spirit of partnership between Hollywood and Washington after the Sept. 11 attacks by suicide hijackers and the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
Studio and network executives have met with White House officials and formed a special panel to plan ways of improving America's image abroad and help the government craft its message about its war on terrorism.
Bruckheimer, however, said he was not part of that movement and said development of "Profiles From the Front Line" predates the so-called Hollywood 9/11 committee.
Nevertheless, the program will be "patriotic in nature," van Munster acknowledged. "The men and women who are fighting in this conflict, they deserve their moment," he said. "While we're sitting in the comfort of our home, we want to see how these guys are taking care of business."
Some critics said they were troubled by the prospect of an entertainment program crossing into a realm long reserved for coverage by network news divisions.
TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the Tyndall Report, said if the Pentagon exercises control over the program, "then to me it becomes an infomercial for the Pentagon's recruiting, and it should come out of the U.S. Army's budget, not out of ABC's pocket."
Robert Thompson of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television, said a military conflict "needs to be covered by journalists, not by entertainers."
"You have a bunch of journalists who should be covering this kind of material who are being denied access to it," he said. "Then you've got this entertainment operation who as part of the new alliance between Hollywood and the government are presumably being given access because the nature of their portrayal of the front line has already been ... approved by those granting the access."
ABC executives said the program makes no attempt to pass as news and that the network would have the last say over what makes it onto the airwaves, except for footage deemed a security breach by military officials.
In addition, Bruckheimer did not rule out showing viewers something the military might view as a blemish. "We're all human, we all make mistakes," he said. "We're not going to shy away form something if it's dramatic and interesting."
Said van Munster, "I'm not in the business of making infomercials. ... What I'm known for is in-your face, good, tough documentary cinema verite work."
© 2002 Reuters
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.