The Watchman: Nat Geo’s ‘Long Road Home’ From Baghdad, SundanceTV Utters ’The A Word’

Deputy editor Michael Malone’s weekly look at the programming scene

The Long Road Home, National Geographic’s gripping account of an ambush that took several U.S. soldiers’ lives in Baghdad in 2004, begins Nov. 7. The miniseries is based on a book by Martha Raddatz, who is chief global affairs correspondent for ABC News.

Raddatz knows viewers are often fatigued when it comes to war. She said the plight of the 1st Cavalry Division, which sustained heavy losses that day, is different. “This is relatable — these are not SEALS or special operations forces,” she said. “I like to say, it’s from the minivan to the Humvee. They’re just like your neighbor, your friend.”

Michael Kelly, best known as Doug Stamper on House of Cards, is in the cast. So is Jason Ritter of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.

Series consultant Raddatz said Long Road Home delivers an authentic war experience. “I have a high B.S. detector,” she said. “This is not B.S. at all.”

She acknowledged that Hollywood is a bit of a foreign land. Will she tackle more scripted television? “I don’t know,” said Raddatz. “But bringing stories to a larger audience is very, very fulfilling.”

Also fulfilling is the new season of The A Word on SundanceTV. An honest look at a family coming to terms with an autistic child is both heartfelt and funny. Creator Peter Bowker said the first season — he actually said “the first series,” because he’s English — was about denial, as the Hughes family struggled to deal with son Joe’s condition. Season two is about acceptance. It’s about parents Alison and Paul “and what’s next when they know this child is different,” Bowker said.

Particularly moving is when Joe actually says the word “autism.”

Bowker sees the series detailing Joe’s life into adulthood, perhaps lasting for five or six seasons. “What I don’t want,” he said, “is to reduce it to Autism — Problem of the Week.”

And Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal International Group and Telemundo Enterprises, was given the Frank Stanton Award by the Center for Communication in New York last week. The roast is typically a bawdy affair, but the presenters struggled to find ribald stuff to share about the straight-laced Conde.

José Díaz-Balart, the Telemundo and NBC anchor, wondered if Conde is indeed Latino. “He’s punctual, he doesn’t kiss and hug everyone when he enters the room,” said Díaz-Balart said. “That’s not a Latino!”

Telenovela star Carlos Ponce pitched Conde a show from the stage. El Señor de los Ratings, it was called, with Ponce as the leading man.

When he stepped to the stage, Conde acknowledged how rare it was for people to see Ponce with a shirt on. “They say I’m buttoned up,” he said. “My friend here has no buttons at all.”