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War Gone Wild: A Programming Disaster
April 2, 2003
By Glen Coburn

Sagging ratings have prompted the Bush Administration to turn up the heat.

Initial television ads for the new reality show Operation Iraqi Freedom promised viewers a kinder, gentler, more whimsical spin on traditional warfare. Audiences would be treated to a heartwarming desert romp featuring jig-dancing Iraqi peasants tossing floral bouquets at throngs of liberating U.S. troops. Originally scheduled for one week, early subplots included high-tech missiles targeting facilities sheltering evil Muslims and bypassing innocent, quaintly dressed Arabs. But the real crowd pleaser was U.S. intelligence speculation that head-villain Saddam Hussein was blown to bits in the early hours of the riotous conflagration.

Early numbers indicated a record-breaking tally of viewers. These numbers may have been misleading taking into account that O.I.F. was the only show running at the time. Viewership dropped significantly after the first five, twenty-four hour episodes. This trend is attributed to the fact that regular programming preempted war coverage.

Also, mainstream viewers started losing interest. Reruns of Friends and E.R. were the shows to beat and they both offered more action, drama, comedy, emergency room antics and camera angles than the latest in the already saturated schedule of reality-based programming. President Bush Jr. may regret ignoring his father, former U.S. CEO George Bush Sr.ís advice to hold off on the war until after the completion of the present round of American Idol. Fortunately, President Jr. implemented Dad's idea of intimidating the singing contest producers into putting a country-and-western-crooning United States Marine on the popular Fox program. However, the move backfired when the Garth Brooks-inspired Marine scored an even larger audience for Idol.

Even hardcore fans of O.I.F. have become disenchanted at the presumed never-ending length of the series, hoping the producers will cut back to two episodes a week. And almost all viewers are disgusted at the mounting list of casualties. Audiences are apparently turned off by the idea of America's finest young men and women sacrificing their lives in support of a poorly justified military action. Producers claim they informed viewers of the impending death toll and extended length of the war although there is no documentation to support this claim.

Audiences are also confused at the unexpected plot twist concerning the bitter, violent opposition of the Iraqi people toward the troops who came to secure the freedom that they didn't ask for in the first place. At a price tag of seventy-five billion dollars and counting, this show is a destined bomb. And there's no hope for recouping the loss in foreign television markets because of itís universal lack of popularity in almost every country in the world. However, it did barely find a spot on the night-owl schedule in Cameroon which was not unexpected considering the huge ad campaign by the Bush Administration and several personal appearances by the star of the show himself.

Don't look for this overblown television event to disappear quickly. Producers are already planning two spin-offs. I'm an Iraqi, Get Me Outta Here and Celebrity Showdown With Saddam are already slated for mid-season replacements on the WB.


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