ABC and its cable partners unveiled a $25 million project last week to air promos and programming specials commemorating the bicentennial of United States Military Academy.
ABC Unlimited, Disney's integrated sales division, and The West Point Project will collaborate on specials, including a two-hour prime time show, Young America Celebrates West Point, for ABC in June.
On the cable side, The History Channel plans two specials, and Lifetime Television will profile West Point women as part of its Intimate Portraits
series. ESPN Classic will show a two-hour retrospective on the academy's sports.
The cable nets will pick up the production tab; the West Point Project is responsible for ad sales, according to project executive producer Stanley Moger, of SFM Entertainment. American Airlines has signed on as a sponsor.
With U.S. military operations under way in Afghanistan, the partnership between a military institution and ABC raises some questions.
"There may be ethical landmines embedded within this arrangement," said Bob Steele, who serves on the ethics faculty for the Poynter Institute. "Do they want to run the risk of a perception of a partnership with a military institution that would be corrosive of ABC's journalistic independence?"
The deal includes promo spots to spur recruiting. A series of vignettes, titled West Point Minutes, will run on Disney properties. Some will air during news programs; the network may run a disclaimer with those spots.
The programming is objective, said Ivan Kronenfeld, an executive producer with Koerner Kronenfeld Partners, which created the project. "This has nothing to do with a PR puff piece for West Point."
The West Point Project comprises alumni and private citizens who recruited some high-profile producers to craft the specials.