When the OIF show was first pitched it had everything the executives wanted.
It had colorful characters: a clean-shaven all-American everyman with a mysterious past, a mysterious marriage and 2.2 children, forced by tragedy to confront his demons and become a leader. His loyal friends and advisors; an emotionally crippled mentor with a heart condition, a maverick former wrestler with a unique grasp of logic, a political wonk with a brain as big as a football, and a college-educated black woman whose immobile hairdo belied her true passions.
It had a compelling plot: Together this rag-tag group, thrown together as if by the ineffable hand of destiny, would confront none-other than the latest mustachioed iteration of Satan himself (Hitler and Stalin being the previous two, with Castro relegated to minion status on account of the beard) in an epic battle between a nuclear-armed unelected president allied with religious extremists bent on world domination and a nuclear-armed unelected president allied with religious extremists bent on world domination for freedom!
Even as the writers were still polishing the script, marketing directors were working feverishly behind the scenes developing “buzz”. The security surrounding the plot was unprecedented; the details of how the story would unfold were unknown even to the director and executive producer, let alone the cast! But despite the security, everyone involved in the project couldn’t contain their enthusiasm and let a few details slip, which only whetted the appetites of a ravenous press.
Technical advisor Don Rumsfeld (who played himself in the show until recently) down-played rumors that OIF might have “legs” when he said in a pre-premiere interview that OIF “will last six days…six weeks…I doubt six months”.
But he also spoke of known knowns and unknown unknowns and unknown knowns and known unknowns so convincingly that neither industry insiders nor outsiders could know what Rumsfeld or anyone else actually knew about OIF.
Though the premiere was scheduled for March 20th 2003 the OIF executive producers, in a clever marketing move no doubt inspired by Orson Welles’ infamous War Of the World’s radio broadcast, interrupted ‘scheduled” broadcasting a day early, resulting in a huge ratings bonanza as OIF debuted with spectacular special effects and gritty hand- held footage that only added to the immediacy and excitement of the script.
What was considered a risky project by some industry observers had become a “slam dunk” for the OIF team as, what was supposed to be the final episode of this miniseries—the hero’s landing on an aircraft carrier with a stars-and-stripes “Mission Accomplished”—scored such high ratings that the networks scrambled to offer open-ended contracts to develop and produce new shows every week and unusually with no attempts to change the cast, crew, scriptwriters or producers.
Four years later those concessions to not change a good thing appear in retrospect a bad thing. Production costs rose beyond all expectations whilst the formerly impressive special effects became mundane and rote. Dialog became wooden and plots recycled endlessly. New blood was used in the supporting cast but the old blood at the top began to coagulate and dry and become crusty stains that no amount of Tide could dislodge.
The writers and producers it seems were seduced by their sudden stardom and abandoned their respective crafts: producers have to spend money wisely to put product on the screen and deliver buying audiences, and the writers have to engage the audience with human interest, personal conflict, sympathetic characters that advance the plot, a few moments of victory and ultimately a happing ending.
Instead the script denied the audience the necessary personal connections; the hero never went into battle against overwhelming odds; his buddies never forced him to look inside himself for the fortitude required for him to become what he so desperately needed to become; no hard-bitten principal player rescued a nervous kid, nor did any of the crusty career soldiers turned generals get reminded by a raw recruit of the reason they were fighting and dying.
And as for the inevitable ‘mavericks’, there seemed to be a hell of a lot more psychos raping and killing civilians than those befriending the locals; and any stealing wasn’t from the PX or borrowing from other units to get some home-comforts in the middle of a war or to circumvent military bureaucracy to get the equipment needed to “get the job done”, it was stealing piles of money in the knowledge that they wouldn’t get caught .
OIF practically debuted as a “cult” show, but unlike other cult shows OIF doesn’t even have enough fans to maintain midnight syndication, let alone a new series.
OIF “jumped the shark” with the introduction of the Paul Bremer character and OIF’s spin-off “W.R.” (Walter Reed) is beyond even Michael Crichton’s skills.
It’s definitely time this series was taken off the air.