- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

The war in Iraq has gone Hollywood. Street fights, improvised explosive devices, roadblocks — they’ve all become bloody plot devices for a new TV series on the ongoing conflict.

“Over There” debuted on the FX cable network Wednesday, courtesy of Steven Bochco, producer of “NYPD Blue” and other dramas. He is not apologetic for tapping into the war for material.

“Our agenda is simply and fundamentally to create very compelling entertainment,” said Mr. Bochco, who recently told TV critics that he felt no moral or ethical misgivings, though he declined to reveal his own political leanings.

Writer Chris Gerolmo, who also wrote the movie “Mississippi Burning,” called the topic “a natural” for TV.

“Why not write about war?” he asked. “We can give you a powerful, visceral, gut-wrenching experience that the news can’t give you.”

Some don’t see it that way.

“I have a problem with this program. I’m not watching something fictional which shows soldiers in harm’s way, for the sake of drama and ratings,” said Peter Ries, a Vietnam-era Army vet whose son is on his second tour of Iraq.

“As a father, I’ve got my own reality about this war, and so does every parent who has a son or daughter over there. I don’t need to see the TV version of it,” Mr. Ries continued. “They’re not showing a war which is 40 years old. It’s happening now, this second, and these people are making money off it.”

The one-hour series opens with a soldier having sex with his wife before deploying and later shows an Iraqi insurgent blown apart at the torso — though his legs continue to walk for a few steps.

Though myriad documentaries and news specials have been produced about Iraq, “Over There” is the first series on record to fictionalize a contemporary war. The premise prompted the Los Angeles Times to assemble a dozen Marines to preview it last week, drawing mixed reviews.

One felt the show would at least remind Americans that troops are not merely “peacekeeping.”

FX spokesman John Solberg said the network has received both positive and negative opinions from individual viewers.

“But to date, we have not heard from and groups or organizations voicing support or disapproval of the show,” said Mr. Solberg, adding, “We understand that there are people who don’t think we should do this.”

Even news coverage of Iraq has sparked emotional viewer reactions. ABC’s “Nightline,” for example, was boycotted by some audiences two years ago for running commercials on shows featuring the names and photos of Iraq and Afghanistan war dead.

Fictional renditions of war, some say, can only dwell on the dramatic.

“What can a one-hour program show about real war? There will 55 minutes of guys who are bored, dirty, maybe scared. Then there will be two minutes where all hell breaks loose, then three minutes of looking for bodies,” said David Cline, president of the New Jersey-based Veterans Against the War.

“To be entertaining, Hollywood has to zero in on combat and camaraderie,” Mr. Cline said. “The reality of war, however, is just making it through, day by day.”

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