The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning film about an Army cowboy who diffuses bombs in Iraq while bucking armed services convention, catapulted the treacherous job of the military’s bomb disposal experts into the popular imagination.
But the film also took incoming fire from military veterans who decried The Hurt Locker’s lack of verisimilitude; the realities of war and especially the armed services rigorous protocols were sacrificed for dramatic effect, they said.
Now G4, the Comcast-owned network that targets men, aims to show how the military’s bomb disposal units really work.
Bomb Patrol: Afghanistan will follow a Navy explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) unit from training in San Diego through deployment in Afghanistan. G4 is looking to staff the project with field producers and shooters who have prior experience in combat zones. All shooters will complete emergency medical and threat avoidance training similar to the training foreign correspondents get before deploying on military embeds. And insurance - which Laura Civiello, VP of development at G4, describes as “exceptionally comprehensive” - will eat up a significant chunk of the show’s budget.
G4 has ordered ten one-hour episodes of the show from Maryland-based production company Big Fish Entertainment, which has produced numerous unscripted series for cable including DC Cupcakes for TLC. The network’s agreement with the Navy stipulates that Bomb Patrol will not premiere until the EOD team has returned from Afghanistan, a precaution to protect them in the field. The Navy also will get to screen the show’s footage for potential classified material. And because the shooters will not be able to accompany EOD experts into the range of a possible IED (improvised explosive device), the production will mount cameras on vehicles, on the bomb diffusing robot, on helmets and even inside the 70-pound bomb suit. “We’re going to have a tremendous amount of camera coverage given the limitations of shooting in such a dangerous situation,” says Civiello.
But while executing such a production poses numerous practical risks, there is also the question of viewer interest in a show about a war that, according to numerous polls, has lost the support of the American public.
It’s a reality news organizations deal with all the time; they spend dearly to send correspondents to cover the increasingly dangerous war in Afghanistan while war fatigued viewers largely tune it out.
Last week, Katie Couric anchored the CBS News from Afghanistan and the broadcast was rewarded with its lowest ratings in nearly 20 years. Coverage included a dramatic report from correspondent Terry McCarthy about a Marine EOD unit on a bomb clearing patrol during which one Marine was killed and another lost his legs. Granted, Couric’s two-day stint came during a traditionally low-rated summer week for TV news. But it was nevertheless a bitter reminder that a Great Recession battered public may be in no mood for dispatches from America’s longest war.
Neal Tiles, president of G4, said the greater public’s anecdotal disinterest in the war was not a factor in whether or not to green-light Bomb Patrol.
“Regardless of whether or not [the public] believes we should or shouldn’t be [in Afghanistan], there are still Americans over there” says Tiles. “And I think this project will help shed some light on the work our men and women are doing over there and keep that front and center.”