Sunday, July 17, 2005

Product Placement 2005

For all you fans of Navy NCIS (That's Navy Naval Criminal Investigative Service, as opposed to Air Force Naval Criminal Investigative Service -- add it to the RAS Syndrome list), you might be interested to read (thanks to The Memory Hole) the e-mails exchanged between the show's creators and the actual NCIS people. (You'll need Adobe Acrobat.) Full disclosure: I have seen this program twice. Once for eight minutes, once for three minutes. But, the spouse of one of the stars went to the high school across town from mine.

Cooperation between federal (or local, see below) government agencies and Hollywood is certainly nothing new; after all, Jack Valenti is like 100 years old. J. Edgar Hoover personally reviewed scripts for The FBI (the old show with Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). Government/network cooperation gives some great results sometimes, as when Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon spent a year shadowing the Baltimore P.D.'s Homicide Unit, which led to the couldn't-put-it-down work of non-fiction Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which led to three fantastic seasons, one OK season, and three kind of lame seasons of the TV show Homicide: Life on the Streets.

However, you have to keep an eye on these things, and not only not believe everything you see on the news, but also not believe (or be carried away by the emotional impact of) everything you are entertained by. (You shouldn't believe everything you see that tells you not to believe something, either.) A few years ago there was a minor Clinton scandal in which it came out that the Office of Drug Control Policy had editorial control over certain TV scripts in return for the Feds excusing the shows' networks from certain public service announcement responsiblities. (Note: I may be an inconsistent libertarian, but I'm libertarian enough to know that it's ridiculous that the networks are burdened with PSA announcements at all, other than being required to report emergency weather or civil defense information.) The thing is, I never heard if that practice was stopped for good, or if the current administration has the option to try something similar with the War on Terror. Has anyone asked lately? Maybe that's why Armstrong Williams is going to guest in next season's "24."

One thing that troubles me slightly is that certain scenes in certain episodes of 24 and 4400 I have seen in the past year are practically cheerleading sessions for extending federal authority to disregard the established Constitutional rights of (non-criminal) individuals. The storylines are presented using such melodrama as "We have only five minutes to find the nuke hidden somewhere in downtown L.A." or "The returnees are exhibiting supernatural powers, and who knows if they're going to be violent?" and other post-9/11 MacGuffins, and such casual threats are made (to slightly weasely, but non-criminal characters) as "How would you like to never be able to fly on an airplane anywhere in the world ever again?" in such a manner that the average viewer identifies with the threatener rather than the threatee. I wonder what the thought-provoking 1998 thriller The Siege would be like if made today.

I have nothing against TV shows like this other than they are often lame and predictable and may be brainwashing us into accepting a curtailance of our liberties. Other than that, they are wholesome, violent fun.


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