THE PLANK JULY 29, 2009
That's the question of the hour. As I wrote on The Plank last night, I have a piece in this week's TNR that has to do with "The Wanted," an NBC News show that has been attacked by media ethicists, human rights activists, and television critics for supposedly blurring the lines between news gathering and international police work. Now, after only two episodes, according to The New York Observer and The Baltimore Sun's television critic David Zurawik, NBC is saying the show is no longer on the primetime schedule. Zurawik, incidentally, teaches part-time at Goucher College, which is where "The Wanted" first ran into controversy, when the show confronted a Rwandan professor there named Leopold Munyakazi with accusations of genocide. My piece explores the complex story behind those allegations, which some Rwanda scholars believe are probably untrue.
Most likely, NBC's decision had less to do with the naysayers than with the show's ratings--Mediabistro's TVNewser blog reports that its Monday episode finished fifth in its time slot, trailing even a Univision telenovela. Anonymous "insiders" tell the blog that the network always planned to air just two episodes, and that others in production may end up on MSNBC. Though the press release announcing the show's debut only described two installments, the producers indicated to me as recently as a week ago that they were rushing to finish at least four other episodes, including the one about Munyakazi. I've seen footage the producers shot in Rwanda, and I know they've done investigations in other foreign locales like Congo--the kind of ambitious investment, in terms of time and money, that is becoming increasingly rare in network news organizations at a moment when budgets are shrinking.
So, is NBC writing off its expensive experiment? No announcement has been released yet. Several hours ago, I emailed a spokeswoman as well as the producers of "The Wanted" to ask what's going to happen with the show, and what that means for the Munyakazi episode. So far, no comment.