The Academy



5-6 p.m., Thursday, May 24
Fox Reality

The particular "Academy" to which the title alludes is the one that teaches people how to be deputies in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. At the end of each of the 10 episodes, there's an 800 number for those who want to sign up. Perhaps some viewers will call. You never know how many masochists are out there.

OK, that's too harsh. Or maybe not. In any case, it's not possible to judge an entire 18-week training program by the first two days, which is what gets covered in the premiere. Still, you get the impression that these training officers might have been drummed off of Parris Island for brutality.

Like battle-hardened drill instructors, grim-faced sheriff's deputy trainers shout insults into the faces of raw recruits. They demand strict obedience, precise formations and answers that begin and end with "Sir" (or sometimes "Ma'am").

Whether this sort of rigid military regimentation is the best way to train and prepare civilian peace officers can be debated, but this isn't the place. Fox Reality's "The Academy" is not about second-guessing. It's about following orders and seeing who can make it through the hard-nosed training of Los Angeles County's very own boot camp.

The series that offers a greater challenge to the producers than most unscripted shows. For one thing, the trainees are chosen by admissions officers, not casting directors. For another, every time something interesting happens, the producers can't just whisk someone aside for an interview. Nor can they devise contrived contests and challenges. They have to make do with the ones that are part of the academy curriculum.

With all that, they still have to weave the footage into a compelling narrative. For the most part, they succeed. This is in great part because of the incredible access the producers got into every facet of the training.

A camera was present as instructors sized up the class behind a one-way mirror and also when one young woman sadly confesses that she isn't cut out for this training. A camera was trained on an instructor who told the would-be deputies they were in for rigorous training because, in the end, they would be protecting his children. You might debate his logic, but you couldn't argue with the depth of his sincerity.

At some point, it might also be interesting to do a reality series on the training of Los Angeles Police Department rookies. That is, if you can get it on the air before the footage is subpoenaed.

Fox Reality
Scott Sternberg Prods.
Executive producers: Scott Sternberg, Scott Weinberger
Co-executive producer: Jerome Beck
Supervising producer: Tracy A. Whittaker
Producers: Brenda Coston, John Salcido, Cameron Reed
Editors: Karen Snyder, Joe Shugart
Director of photography: Mike Pepin
Narrator: Holt McCallany