Nine Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, including Desmond Tutu, said in a letter to NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, producer Mark Burnett and show host General Wesley Clark, that in “trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition” the show “further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public.”
In the show, a group of celebrities, including Todd Palin, Laila Ali, Nick Lachey, Dean Cain, Picabo Street, etc., compete in challenges inspired by real military exercises to win a cash prize for charity; they are trained by current and former military operatives. Who were put on the phone by NBC Friday to gin up publicity for the show, which has taken a ratings bath, scoring just 3.6 million viewers this Monday, after opening with about 5 million viewers.
Most of the reporters on the call wanted to know things like how the military guys had bonded with their respective celebrities, what they’d learned from the show, etc. And the answers were everything you’d expect — everyone is proud of their celebrities, and was impressed with their level of fitness, etc.
But when the TV Column asked them to comment on the above-mentioned letter, they got more animated.
“All of the operatives on the show are all decorated seasoned combat veterans...None of us would have been involved in a show that glorified war, that was cheesy, that was hokey,” insisted former Navy SEAL Brent Gleeson, who’s paired with Picabo Street.
“We’re not glorifying war — we’re raising money for charity. We’re bringing some basic understanding of how difficult a job of our military and special operations communities are... I think people are trying to make something out of nothing,” he added.
“There have been a lot of wars fought over time, and I don’t think anybody would oppose us fighting against Hitler, or us fighting against civil rights issues or things like that that were justified — it sounds like some people are kind of picking and choosing the wars they approve and don’t approve of,” said Tom Stroup, the SWAT commander who partnered with Nick Lachey.
“This about raising awareness and appreciation for the effort that it takes to live in a country like we do,” Stroup continued. “We just had a shooting at the Empire State Building, and the cops put themselves in danger to protect others, and…the message of the show is that. We’re reminding the public that every day, people put their lives on the line.”
J.W. Cortes, an Iraq war veteran paired with Todd Palin on the show, noted “Stars Earn Stripes” is about bringing awareness and funding, through the prize for charity, to programs that help soldiers who return from service and can’t adjust to civilian life, who are committing suicide at an “epidemic” rate. “It’s those things that aren’t spoken of, aren’t glamorized, but yet they’re statistically proven… and we need to do something about it,” he said, adding, “I see no one else doing what NBC is doing.”
“Entertainment is how America will receive information,” chimed in Talon Smith, a U.S. Navy Corpsman and partnered with Laila Ali.
“NBC brings what is going overseas to everybody’s doorstep and says, ‘Hey, we’re not silent, we have men and women still over there; police officers are on the streets daily protecting our freedoms’.”
“A lot of people who are criticizing this show a) have never served b) don’t know what it’s like to really sacrifice for their country, don’t know what it’s like to be shot or have friends die in their arms,” added Gleeson.