Under the Radar

Should Stars Earn Stripes?

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Stars Earns Stripes premiered this week and it begs a pretty important question: just exactly what does it mean to "support the troops" these days? Because everyone on camera in this show believes they're paying tribute to the men and women who fight to protect our country.

Retired General Wesley Clark (a guy who once believed, for at least a couple of weeks, that he might be the President of the United States) oversees a pretend training facility where celebrities are paired with military-trained operatives and compete in events based on actual training missions. Every celeb is playing to win donations to military charities that deserve the support.

Where this gets complicated is that Stars Earns Stripes plays out like a cross between Survivor and Dancing With the Stars. I've always wondered if actual professional dancers cringe when they see ABC make it seem like any washed-up soap opera actor can spend a couple of weeks learning a craft that took them years to master.

Here's the good part: NBC gave what seems like a well-paid gig to several Army, Navy and USMC guys, including some SEALs and Green Berets. The most high-profile of the group is Chris Kyle, author of the best-selling memoir American Sniper.

Less impressive are the celebrities, a group that includes a retired Superman, an ex-Olympic skier, a reality show host, Jessica Simpson's ex-husband, a WWE wrestler and the spouse of a high-profile retired politician.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has already called for NBC to cancel the show because it tries to "somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition." Even though it's blindingly obvious to anyone who's either played sports or completed military training, let's spell it out here. The Greeks designed the original Olympic events as military training exercises and the level of competition hardwired into the special forces training and selection process blows away anything we see in the NBA or the NFL. So: point missed, Archbishop Tutu.

What's weird is the idea that clumsily executed training missions somehow pay tribute to the folks who actually risk their lives doing the real thing. You've got a group of operatives who know first-hand how costly any screwups in timing or execution would actually be watching the celebrities stumble their way through the task and then breathlessly talking about how hard it is.

Maybe the show will be a recruiting tool. Maybe it's good for morale to have actual war fighters look soulfully into the camera while responding to leading questions from some reality show producer holding a clipboard. Maybe I missed the point and it's actually awesome, but early ratings suggest that two solid weeks of promotion during the Olympics didn't generate much interest in the show.

So here's the question: does a show like this trivialize the sacrifice and risk that goes into military service or should the producers get a free pass for supporting the troops (even if the show looks a lot like the Superstars with assault rifles)?

You can watch the entire first episode below.

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