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Homeland Security Goes Hollywood

By Ed O'Keefe

A new reality television show focused on the agencies and employees of the Department of Homeland Security is sure to find fans among bureaucrats and department observers, and also is likely to draw some criticism from those who wonder if a primetime television show is the best use of the agency's time.

Homeland Security USA
"Homeland Security USA," debuts Jan. 6 and will profile various parts of DHS, including Customs and Border Protection. (Photo by Ron Tom/ABC)

"Homeland Security USA" debuts Jan. 6 on ABC. The show's producer, Arnold Shapiro (creator of the CBS reality hit "Big Brother") recently told the Hollywood Reporter, “I love investigative journalism, but that’s not what we’re doing. This show is heartening. It makes you feel good about these people who are doing their best to protect us.”

So while the show will highlight the main missions of the department's 218,000 employees, it likely will not focus on less flattering incidents, like the DHS official arrested for hiring illegal immigrants, the department's challenges with government contracting, or the inability of airport screeners to unionize.

The department's office of public affairs was approached by ABC about the project, according to DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner.

“We worked with this outlet as we work with many others," Keehner said, but she could not discuss specifics, because "it's ABC's project." Keehner was "not aware of any financial benefit" to either the department or the employees profiled on the show.

ABC is likely to share more information when it begins its PR roll out closer to the show's launch, a standard practice for primetime debuts.

We do know that the show will mostly feature the work of Customs and Border Protection, with some focus on the Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. (No word on the Federal Air Marshals -- an agency probably difficult to tape.) All of the agencies have cooperated fully with the show's producers, which is not surprising considering the positive portrayals they've been promised.

The first episode, called "This Is Your Car on Drugs," will highlight the work of Borders and Custom Enforcement officers at Los Angeles International Airport, a Blaine, Wash. U.S.-Canada border crossing, a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border near Tucson, Ariz. and another border crossing at San Ysidro, Calif. It also will highlight an incident involving barbecued bats at the International Mail Center in Carson, Calif. No, really.

"It’s kind of a combination of the two most popular shows on TV, 'Cops' and '24,'" said David Heyman, director and senior fellow of the Homeland Security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"Public officials need to find ways of communicating, educating and engaging the public to take part in their own preparedness and security. This has the possibility of doing that," Heyman added. Still, "You obviously don’t want the filming of these activities to affect the decisions of those that are being filmed. In other words, you don’t want them playing to the camera."

ABC has ordered 13 episodes and has scheduled the show to air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET, meaning it will compete against the popular "American Idol." Will federal law enforcement and anti-terrorism professionals draw a large enough audience to compete with musical amateurs?

"The job of homeland security one is a sober one, it’s a serious one, and one that should not be modified for ratings wars," Heyman said, noting he has not seen the show and does not expect the department to alter its missions in exchange for ratings success.

But shows and movies about government agencies have succeeded with mixed success. NBC's "The West Wing" started well, but gradually faded over its seven seasons. The Showtime production "The Inspectors" about U.S. postal inspectors failed back in 1998. Plus, most of today's successful procedural crime dramas focus on local law enforcement.

Still, The Eye plans to tune in for the duration of the program to see how Hollywood handles the department's numerous agencies and missions. Will you? The comments section awaits your thoughts.

Want to know what else we're up to? Follow The Federal Eye on Twitter.

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 10, 2008; 6:06 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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I wonder if they will do an episode on the 80 plus people that have died in their custody over the last year alone. that would be educational.

Posted by: fxf2 | December 10, 2008 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully, this idiotic show will be cancelled and quickly followed by the cancellation of DHS, a bloated, incompetent bureaucratic disaster if there ever was one.

Posted by: pookiecat | December 10, 2008 5:11 PM | Report abuse

There are alot of people out there that thinks that the creation of the DHS was a bad move.... yet not one of those individuals have shown us how they would have done it... Imagine that..... Stop complaining if you don't have the solution, hopefully, we won't have to deal with this again (another terrorist attack)...

Posted by: varner1 | December 10, 2008 10:03 PM | Report abuse

I worked for Customs for over 30 years. Homeland Security is a disaster which was created only to present a positive image to the public. The Administration was more intent on silencing employees and stripping them of their rights than protectibng the country. There are many things that COULD be done, but present employees are threatened with disciplinary action if they speak with the press. I am retired now and have testified before Congress, and appeared on NPR as an outspoken critic on the establishment of the Dept. of Homeland Security. We could begin by re-enacting the Executive Order on parnership which Bush rescinded when he took office.

Posted by: jwilda | December 11, 2008 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Oh joy!! Another reality TV show. Thankfully they've slotted this loser in a time slot against the most popular reality TV show in history, American Idol, so it should be very short-lived.

Posted by: lesturgill | December 11, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I am looking forward to the show. Sounds to me like too many people have nothing to do but complain and moan and groan. You need to watch the show and maybe you'll realize what "HOMELAND SECURITY" means and what those men and woman go through on a daily basis for you. If your on your boat and the motor dies and you find yourself stranded 20 miles out...who do you call?? If a airplane is hijacked who do you call??? If illegals are bringing drugs in the country who do you call??? HOMELAND SECURITY, US COAST GUARD that's who. You probably sit behind a desk in a nice cushy job while those men and woman (including my son) are out there protecting this country and all's you can do is complain that "another reality show" is gonna be on tv. Well atleast this one is about real men and woman working to protect all of us instead of a singing show that makes kids believe that they too can make it to Hollywood if your pretty enough. And every department in every job in the world has bad things happen I bet yours does too, why not show some good once in awhile?? Does everything always have to be about the bad?? I just want to say THANK-YOU to ALL of the Homeland Security men and woman.

Posted by: nannasavage | December 11, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

This show offends everything within me after watching my husband suffer torture, drugging, and every human rights abuse possible at the hands of Homeland Security. You can read our story at J LZ Author's Den, because ABC and no other publisher will air it. Why? They would have to defend it against an autonomous agency called Homeland Security. I will publish it myself under the title, Save Me Salvador. These people are corrupt! And many U.S. citizens have suffered watching their loved ones suffer human rights abuses for simply asking for asylum to save their lives!

Posted by: mktgclassact | December 13, 2008 2:33 AM | Report abuse

Google: J LZ
and find the one with Author's Den and you'll see what Homeland Security is really like, or you can also find out by googling: ACLU Sues U.S. Immigration Officials and For-Profit Corrections Corporation Over Dangerous and Inhumane Housing of Detainees. But you will never see ABC or any of these jerks featuring a story on this, because Homeland Security will not allow this. My book will be published as Save Me Salvador, if I have to publish it myself. They will not keep me quiet.

Posted by: mktgclassact | December 13, 2008 2:40 AM | Report abuse

Maybe the TV series will provide some education on the utility of suspicionless, internal checkpoints.

Here at home, US citizens are not required to carry proof of citizenship. The standard driver's license does not prove citizenship- so how does a verbal citizenship check (Honor System) stop a terrorist?

Port Hadlock,WA

Posted by: yeomalt | December 15, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

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