A renewed political focus on the armed services has spilled into scripted TV.
Each of the five broadcast networks has a military pilot in the works: ABC comedy Charlie Foxtrot, CBS’ untitled Navy SEAL drama, Fox’s Behind Enemy Lines reboot, NBC’s For God and Country and The CW’s Valor. Meanwhile, History is readying the Will Smith-produced Harlem Hellfighters, about an African-American unit fighting in World War I; National Geographic just cast its eight-hour Iraq War miniseries The Long Road Home; and Hulu has One Million Steps, the Afghanistan Marine drama based on former Assistant Secretary of Defense Bing West’s book. (And that’s on top of USA Network’s previously renewed Shooter.)
That’s more than double the number of military shows usually being made at this point in the season. While it’s on-brand for History to explore the genre, it’s telling that the younger-skewing CW also is signing up for duty. “Whether that’s a desire to program to ‘Trump’s America’ or to the millions who turned American Sniper into a blockbuster remains an open question,” says television critic Myles McNutt, an assistant professor of communication at Old Dominion University.
Tana Nugent Jamieson, senior vp scripted at A+E Studios, which is behind Harlem Hellfighters, One Million Steps and History’s Six, sees the trend as an attempt to reach underserved audiences. “There’s probably too many right now,” she concedes, “but look how many cop procedurals there are. People want to see all sides of heroes.”
Few disagree that these programs reflect current events, but more intriguing is how they may influence the real world. Says McNutt, “It seems likely, in the years to come, that we will begin to categorize shows as either complicit or resistant to Trump’s presidency.”
A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.