“We may be using an outside group, but, trust me, we vet it with the same standards we use on NBC News,” Griffin says.
Senior producer Elise Warner, the MSNBC staffer in charge of day-to-day supervision of “Lockup,” says,“I am very involved. I have editorial control of every minute that goes into this.”
Rasha Drachkovitch, 44 Blue’s executive producer, won’t even get into the question of reality vs. documentary, but he acknowledges the artificiality of the “Lockup” premise. “Cameras are a magnet for drama,” he says. “In Colorado, we were interviewing a sexual offender. The other inmates were upset we were paying attention to him. They started acting out.”
Drachkovitch freely admits to the many agendas that determine what 44 Blue can film. “We study the election cycle for every state,” he says. “We try to convince the governors there is an upside.”
“The prison is calling the shots,” says Gemma Puglisi, assistant professor at American University’s School of Communication. “The prison gives access to what they want to show.”
Puglisi worked at MSNBC in its infancy and has devoted much of her free time to the high-profile death-row case of Troy Anthony Davis. Watching “Lockup,” she says that the filmmakers have been told, “No, you can’t do this; you can’t do that.”
Fans understand the trade-offs. The Facebook page moderator recently asked, “What surprises you?” Along with “dudes who tattooed their eyes. FREAKY!” was “I haven’t seen all them crooked co’s [cops] faking it for the camera.” A female viewer posted: “It’s kind of a propaganda show.”
Firing up the Facebook base, the producers invited viewers to decide whether the new episodes that started July 2 would feature Boston or Tampa. (Boston won.) Maybe it’s even time for “Lockup” to come out from under NBC’s 30-rock. Says Griffin: “We should have ‘Lockup’ on ‘The Today Show.’ ”
If that happens, despite her reservations about “Lockup,” Puglisi hopes Matt Lauer points out one thing that fans already know. “Lockup” is not the monster that ate MSNBC. She says, “It’s just great television.”
Curry is a freelance writer.