However noble their intentions, the producers of “The Wanted” have achieved the seemingly impossible: trivializing the battle against terrorism by dressing it up as a reality TV show, complete with urgent music, tough-talking direct-to-camera confessionals and what looks to be prominent product placement for Nissan. That this summer series is being presented under the aegis of NBC News marks a lowlight in a year filled with them for the news divisions — and one needn’t be a journalistic purist to find this a troubling sign of where they’re heading.
A New York Times piece set the expectation bar relatively low for this series, which is shot in the style of a “Mission: Impossible” episode. Yet damned if the final result — focusing on “an elite team with backgrounds in intelligence, unconventional warfare and investigative journalism” — still doesn’t limbo under it.
In the premiere, the group sets its sights on Mullah Krekar, the leader of a jihadist organization who is living freely in Norway, apparently because Norwegian authorities refuse to deport him, fearing that he will be tortured or put to death. I say “apparently” because the “Wanted” team limits their on-camera discussions to friendly Norwegian and Iraqi officials who are outraged by this, while working to circumvent these impediments.
The hour builds toward the group actually confronting the mullah, who seems more than happy to grant an interview in order to express his “death to America” sentiments.
What’s ultimately achieved? Although the team and some Norwegians spend a lot of time lauding their efforts, it’s not entirely clear, other than applying the tone and style of “To Catch a Predator” to international terrorism.
That earlier franchise underscored NBC News’ willingness to fully embrace entertainment values to better serve its network in primetime. Driven by this imperative, NBC has been all too happy to taint its news product, dismissing criticism as the harping of elitist pinheads.
Charlie Ebersol, the son of NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, co-created the program with Adam Ciralsky, and they maintain that it’s a blend of “rigorous investigative journalism with high-end production values.”
One can quibble about the latter half of their appraisal — especially when the participants make such an ostentatious point of renting a Nissan. This much, however, is certain: “The Wanted” represents a numbing extension of the “Predator” mindset — and provides clear grounds for serious internal soul-searching about the values of NBC News.