Pete Schulberg/On Television
What will they think of next? This week, ABC is serving up a new reality show that ventures into a murky concept that 'The Bachelorette' or 'Are You Hot?' would never dream of: actual reality.
'Profiles from the Front Line,' a six-hour series that debuts at8 p.m. Thursday on KATU (2), takes the closest look that Americans have yet seen of the U.S. special forces in Afghanistan. But don't worry, 'Bachelorette' fans: The folks who put 'Profiles' together bent over backward to make you feel as if you're watching a khaki version of 'Survivor' and 'Cops,' with a dollop of 'Black Hawk Down' thrown in for either good measure or special effects.
Close your eyes, listen to the music Ñ yep, there's music and a whole lot of it Ñ and pretty soon you'll be waiting for Jeff Probst to explain the latest immunity challenge. The interspersing of action and interview snippets reeks of 'Survivor' and 'Joe Millionaire.'
Of course, the subject matter is a tad more serious. But just because we're talking about the war on terror doesn't mean we should abandon the techniques used in TV's hottest genre.
The show has attracted its share of controversy because it had the blessing of Ñ and more importantly, cooperation from Ñ the Pentagon. News organizations whose reporters and camera crews have not had such access have complained that it's not the Defense Department's job to get involved in something that smacks of entertainment more than anything else.
'Profiles' was created by film producer Jerry Bruckheimer ('Black Hawk Down' and 'Top Gun') and Bertram van Munster (producer of 'The Amazing Race'), both of whom know a thing or two about war scenes and reality TV. This time, when only the first names of subjects are used, it's not some cutesy reality- show technique: Guys like Sgt. Mark, team leader of the 3rd Special Forces Group, and Staff Sgt. Mike want to keep their last names off-limits from al-Qaida.
For the most part, the stories of these brave souls are fascinating and moving. It's the focused, personal stuff you're not going to see on the news. Stories about rooting out al-Qaida members and blowing up land mines Ñ and occasionally, going along for the experience Ñ keep one glued to the screen.
There's no question a gung-ho, pro-military bias is at work here. But it would be hard to come away without a fresh appreciation for the jobs these people have.
The photography is excellent, surely a reflection of the fact that former Portlander and Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer David Hume Kennerly is a co-executive producer.