Homeland Security Goes Hollywood
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" 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.
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