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Correction to This Article
The Style article incorrectly said that the series is not produced by NBC News; it is, and it adheres to the news division's standards and regulations.

TV Preview: Tom Shales on NBC's 'The Wanted'

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By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 2009

While most people are probably familiar with that phrase "the banality of evil," "evil" can have a pathetic buffoonery to it as well. The first of the bad guys to be tracked down on "The Wanted," NBC's new real-life espionage series that launches a different manhunt each week, is sometimes known as "Bin Laden 2.0" -- the title a twisted testimonial to his abilities as a murderer.

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His name, Mullah Krekar -- founder of an international terrorist organization called Ansar al-Islam -- sounds very much, when spoken, like "Moolah Cracker," and it is noted that his ricky-ticky whiskers are iconic to an organization whose claims to infamy include the boast that it "leads the world in beheadings." Time marches on -- yet simultaneously races backward as well.

Very little of "The Wanted" is dramatized or re-enacted, because in the new era of guerrilla television, the bad guys and good guys play themselves. It wasn't very hard to track down Mr. Cracker because he lives openly in Norway, even though the Norwegian Supreme Court ruled him a threat to national security and ordered that he be deported. The crack team of investigative journalists that produces "The Wanted" spent more than four hours with Krekar but appears to have come away somewhat dumbfounded. It is typical of terrorist organizations to exploit the freedoms of open societies that they would happily destroy and replace with totalitarian regimes. And so Krekar parades around Norway a relatively "free" man, while "The Wanted" team does what it can to trip him up.

Is this actual journalism or some kind of crazed commando reportage? A half-century or so ago, Edward R. Murrow produced a television program in which, he hoped, Sen. Joe McCarthy, given enough rope, would tie himself into a frenzied pretzel. Murrow did not, however, wait outside McCarthy's office so he could pounce on him with a camera crew while shouting "J'accuse!" "The Wanted" goes to almost that extreme, and if it's to be commended for making the basic conflict graphic and comprehensible, it's also to be treated with a certain degree of wary skepticism.

Perhaps the times have changed to such an extreme that the old rules have to change as well. In any case, the crack team of journalists and producers behind "The Wanted" take their jobs with sobering seriousness. These soldiers of fortune include Roger Carstens, an expert on counter-intelligence and counter-insurgency; Scott Tyler, a former Navy SEAL and expert on "urban reconnaissance and unconventional warfare"; former U.S. intelligence official David Crane; and co-executive producers Adam Ciralsky and Charlie Ebersol. Ciralsky is an Emmy-winning journalist, and Ebersol -- son of NBC Sports President (and Olympics producer) Dick Ebersol -- says of the new venture, "The pairing of rigorous investigative journalism with high-end production values has resulted in a fast-paced show which we hope will leave viewers wanting more."

Those "high-end production values" include an array of glitzy techniques designed to enhance the show's kinetic oomph -- a dubious goal. It should also be noted that "The Wanted" is not produced by NBC News and therefore is not subject to the rules and regulations of the news division (not that NBC's are the strictest rules in town).

Whatever theoretical quibbles one might make with the show's style, its substance is strong and the overall effect is a highly charged knockout. "The Wanted" could also prove to be "The Needed."

The Wanted (one hour) airs tonight at 10 on NBC.

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