NBC's new series "The Wanted" has already stirred up more than its share of controversy even before it's premiered. Focusing on the pursuit of suspected terrorists and war criminals that have never been brought to justice, the NBC News-produced series also tells these stories in a style that definitely doesn't look like the type of investigative news programs that is the norm for television news. Executive Producer Charlie Ebersol and Creator/Co-Executive Producer Adam Ciralsky talked to our Jim Halterman about the look of the series, what they're hoping to accomplish and what they have to say to all the naysayers.
Jim Halterman: "The Wanted" is kind of a hybrid of a lot of things from reality to news to entertainment. How do you classify the show?
Charlie Ebersol: We call it education through entertainment. We obviously don't think it fits into any genre but the thing that we see more than anything is that it represents the opportunity for two things to happen. One, we want to deliver the news in a way so a number of demographics can digest it and want to digest it. Secondly, I think we wanted to create something that allowed for kind of an unfettered honesty in delivering the news. We tried to pull down all the barriers and limitations so it's not somebody sitting at a desk or sitting behind the computer screen and telling you what the news is but rather you seeing every step of the process from a 360-degree approach. So what we did was bring a journalist, obviously Adam, we brought a prosecutor in David Crane, we brought a tactical guy in Scott [Tyler] and a strategist in Roger Carstens and we basically said, 'Look, you guys are some of the best people in your respective fields. What happens if we tell you you're independent, you can go out and do this, research this, investigate this and then we bring you together in this team to see what kind of change we have made in this situation?' and I think we have found overwhelmingly that it is certainly something new. I think I can say with confidence and candor that nothing else looks like this. I think I can also say it creates a paradigm. Is there a way in which we can deliver a product that looks like this and in a way that does speak to all the different areas.
JH: How did you approach the way the show looks? The music and editing is very slick, almost like "24."
Adam Ciralsky: [Charlie and I] come from two different worlds. I come from a news background so I'm used to very traditional stuff, shot a certain way but I think we're in a time of tremendous upheaval in journalism and the TV news business and the print business... and we thought 'How can we shoot this differently? Let's not assume that we need to start with this as a model or that as a model.' We wanted to start with something that we would find very visually compelling and, based on what we're hearing from people we've showed it to, we've managed to marry really rigorous investigative reporting with really high-end production value and from what we've seen nobody has ever tried that before.
CE: It was a lot of work. It took fifteen months training the different cameramen � I actually shot part of the show myself. So much of the show was about striking this balance between journalism and production value and one should not come at the cost of the other but we don't get to do retakes. So, 'Oh, crap, we didn't get that shot.' We shoot it in the moment. I worked with these cameramen and we had these amazing cameras built for us. We had technology that really hadn't been tested before and were paying homage to the Tony and Ridley Scotts of the world, especially Paul Greengrass; we ripped him off very blatantly.
JH: A lot of people are worked up about this show before it has even gotten on the air and before they've even seen it. What do you make of that?
CE: I think that any time you challenge a status quo in terms of how news is gathered or delivered or anything that is gathered and delivered people are going to have an instinctual reaction. We like it the way it is, we don't want it to change. Particularly, right now we're at a period where information comes out faster than facts do. People react to information that we were gathering without seeing it and we're very confident about our investigation, we're very confident about our news gathering and our respective standards and practices so I'm not worried or scared for a minute that when people see the reporting that they're going to feel good about what we did. My concern is that people give it a chance. That they wait to see the show and then say "You've done this right" or "You've done this wrong." I'm not afraid of criticism. In fact, I like criticism, I think it makes everybody better. It creates a dialogue that allows you to move forward but that dialogue has to be informed on both sides. A person has to have seen something so they can make the right judgment about what they're talking about.
AC: We showed it Wednesday night in Washington at Capitol Hill to several hundred members of Congress, staffers and people from the law enforcement, intelligence, Pentagon and special operations community. Reaction was overwhelming. A lot of people came and said "I read an article and I thought it was this but it's nothing like this." Why did they write that? Because they never saw it! I wonder if there's a way to make money reviewing films you've never seen. It reminds me that the CIA had a program in the 60s called 'remote viewing' where you stick someone in a room and have them imagine what it's like to be, let's say, in the Soviet Union even though they can't travel there. On the one hand, we're glad that people are talking about it and that it's sparking a dialogue but, on the other hand, we hoped that the dialogue would be a little more informed and now it's starting to be because people who are in the relative communities � CIA, FBI, Homeland Security � they all turned out in droves to see this thing Wednesday night and came away not only endorsing the show but actually giving us targets.
JH: How do you keep the cameras from not getting in the way when filming?
CE: It's hard. Especially with Roger and Scott, you're talking about two guys who have spent their careers not wanting to be known. These guys are urban, they're in urban warfare where they want to disappear in the crowd and be able to operate completely in secrecy so having a camera on them was difficult at first. That's why we had to work so long. One of the things that I'm more grateful for from NBC News and especially from Steve Capus, the President, is his passion, his patience. He understand that it would take time to get a point where we could do this the right way and he gave us the time and flexibility to create the show that we needed to create. A lot of it had to do with one, taking a traditional news cameraman and teaching him a whole new language. We blended entertainment cameramen and documentary cameramen and news cameraman but the mantra was that we want the cameras to have an opinion.
JH: What do you think that with all this controversy that you guys might end up being the news instead of the show itself?
AC: I think that's a by-product and I don't run away from that. I would say that in terms of investigative reporting over the years I've been involved in stories where you do become part of it. I can think of several that I've done over the years and all of a sudden you become the issue whether you want to or not and I think one of the ways that we've dealt with that here is by continuously breaking down the fourth wall. So when you see a surveillance being done on our show you see how it's being done. You see a guy in a van with a camera. We could've done this show with complete artifice. We could have had just the shot from the van looking outward and everyone would say 'That looks staged.' So given the opportunity we really try to break the fourth wall and there was a lot of debate about that.
JH: In future episodes is "The Wanted" always based on an international subject or are there also things primarily here in the States?
AC: There are things happening here in the States, for sure, because it's not just terrorists that we're looking at it. We're looking at a couple accused of terrorism, war crimes, genocide, recruitment and trafficking. Things that are happening in this country that I think will absolutely blow people's minds. It's funny when you're talking about some of the criticism that people have written 'Well, it could be interfering with government investigations' which, having just been in Washington, it's preposterous on two levels. One, since when did investigative journalists need a permission slip from the U.S. government before engaging in an investigation? Secondly, we as people who promote the government slapping us on the back and saying 'Thank God somebody is doing this because it's still an important gap.' I think it also says a lot about NBC because we're at a time when everybody is going smaller. I think that a lot of networks, without naming them, would rather arm a producer with a camera, have the producer produce the piece, shoot the piece, edit the piece, everything and this is going 180 degrees in the other direction.
"The Wanted" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on NBC.