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Why Former Army Ranger Tyler Grey is Working With a 'SEAL Team'

Next up in the fall military TV lineup is SEAL Team on CBS (Wednesdays, 9pm ET). This one stars David Boreanaz, a genuine big television star who's been on network shows for the last twenty years with Bones, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He's the grizzled team leader this time and he's joined by Jessica Paré (Megan from Mad Men) returns to TV as Mandy Ellis, the CIA analyst who works with the team on missions.

SEAL Team also aims to show how operators balance their work and home lives. Boreanaz's character Jason Hayes is estranged from his wife Alana (Michaela McManus) and has to find a way to compartmentalize his life so he can function in the job. 

Even though the personal stuff is part of the story, the show's very concerned with bringing the action. We've got a scene from the pilot episode below.

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Tyler Grey is an Army veteran who served with 75th Ranger Regiment, 2nd Battalion as a sniper in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was medically discharged in 2005 after he ran into some explosives during a nighttime raid in Afghanistan. He's spent years working in Hollywood as a military advisor and he's the guy CBS wants to tell us all about SEAL Team.

Tyler's on the right

There are half a dozen new military-themed shows out there. For you, what's special about SEAL Team?

I'll start by saying that I can't comment on what those other shows are because I'm not involved with them and I haven't watched them. I have worked on a ton of military film and TV projects. On every other show or movie project that I've ever been involved with, it's always started with a studio or a big producer. It starts with somebody in Hollywood going, “Hey, I want to make this show about the military,” regardless of unit, service, whatever. And then it kind of trickles down from the top. Usually, the script is written before they even get someone with military experience involved.

I've been working on SEAL Team since the pilot. At the very beginning, it started with someone from the military with prior service who wanted to make something about Special Operations. The start was with a veteran and not the other way around. That’s very rare.

SEAL Team also has four full-time advisors. I worked on a 200 million dollar movie that had just three, to give you an example. They’ve really allowed more veteran involvement than I've ever seen or heard of. I don’t know 100 percent that’s it’s the most, but I know people who worked on a million things and talked to people about a million projects and I've never heard of more veteran involvement on any military project.

At the end of the day it's a TV show, but the goal to capture the authenticity of what the military, what these continuous deployments are like and what it's like to be deployed and come back home.

Does it matter what gun the guy is holding or the green Chemlight or blue Chemlight ? Yeah, we want to get all of that stuff right. But what all of us are really focusing on is an effort to portray active duty in a more realistic way or authentic way than we've seen before. That’s the intent.

In the pilot, it seems like there's an attempt to handle the pressure between family life and mission in a way that seemed a little more grounded than how other shows have done it. How involved are you in that part of the show, in getting those relationships right?

We're involved from the writer's room to post production. I mean there's not a single aspect of the show where we don’t have some input. Now, that being said, there is a network involved. There's a lot of people involved in making this and there's no one person that gets the final, final, final say. It's a team sport.

One thing that we've really stressed to the writers and they’ve done a great job in listening to us is this: I can tell you a billion real instances of drama that I've experienced and they don’t have to be a big melodramatic blowup.

Real drama is kind of small. know that sounds weird to say, but it's like it's the small things that eat at you, it's the small things that eat away at a relationship. It's the small things that cause divorce over multiple deployments. It's not one deployment, hey, the person is gone for six months, it's over because they weren't there. It's that over five years. They just slowly and subtly eats away at their relationship.

We wanted to portray the authenticity of these relationships and the writers understand that it's these small moments. It's not always that somebody cheated or they're lying or some big thing. It's just like it can be as simple as “you haven't been here.”

Tyler gives some firearms instruction to actor Max Thieriot. Photo: Erik Voake/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Tell us about your own military career.

I’ll preface it by saying that I wasn’t a SEAL. I wasn’t even in the Navy. We're trying to tell universal stories through the conduit of a SEAL Team. Between the four full-time advisors, we have several SEALs and we have several Army Special Operations veterans. Working on the show in other capacities we have a ton of Marines, Marines Special Operations.

My background is Army Special Operations. I spent almost a decade there in two different units and then I was medically retired. I got out and came to Hollywood and started working on different Hollywood projects.

I get a lot of flak from some people. You get out of the military, you go work in Hollywood, you’ve gone Hollywood. The fact that is these shows and these movies are going to be made with our input or without. They're gonna be made. Stories about the military are gonna be made, movies are gonna be made, it's gonna happen.

People complain that the military is portrayed wrong all the time. If we want to be portrayed more realistically and in a more authentic way, we have to participate. If you're just complaining and you're not actively trying to solve something or you don’t have a solution, then quit complaining.

All we can do is try and be there, try and educate Hollywood, and through Hollywood hopefully educate the public and the whole nation as to a more realistic and authentic portrayal of who we are as a community. That’s my intent.

Bunny ears never, ever get old.

Do you think that Hollywood has made progress since you started doing it? Do people pay more attention now than they did when you came in?

Absolutely, absolutely. And Hollywood is a reactive industry. It is 100 percent reactive. I'll give you an example.

There's a reason why so many sequels are made: Hollywood reacts to what the public demands. Hollywood is very much a business. Once they know what's gonna make money and what works they react to it and go, “Okay, give them more of that.”

When it comes to veteran authenticity or realistic military portrayal, it first takes a demand from the public before Hollywood will react to that. But to get that demand you gotta have someone that took some risks.

Some good examples were Peter Berg with Lone Survivor. Berg wanted SEALs involved and wanted it to feel authentic. He took that risk and the reaction was positive. So then Hollywood went, oh, yeah, more of that. So I saw a massive change with Lone Survivor on the hiring of like technical advisors.

Another example would be American Sniper. Clint Eastwood couldn’t give less of a f**k. He's gonna do what Clint Eastwood wants to do. He showed the family story in American Sniper. And the public went for it. Prior to Deadpool, American Sniper was the highest-grossing rated R movie of all time.

That movie only got green-lit because Clint Eastwood wanted to make that movie. They all said, you're an idiot. Clint Eastwood said, no, I'm f**king Clint Eastwood and I'm making the movie.

He made it, Hollywood reacted, and what happened? Hollywood went, holy sh*it, the American public wants more. They want more authentic military stories. They want to see the family perspective. They are very reactive. So post those two movies, those were kind of the -- that was kind of a one-two punch of public demand for a more authentic portrayal.

Hollywood went, okay, when it's told from the veteran perspective, it starts from the veteran perspective, and then you’ve got that veteran involvement and that portrayal is more authentic, the public reacts. So that’s been a major difference.

Left to right: Toni Trucks as Davis, Neil Brown Jr. as Ray, David Boreanaz as Jason Hayes, Jessica Paré as Mandy Ellis, Max Thieriot as Clay Spenser and AJ Buckley as Sonny. Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I was in LA last week and saw all the billboards and all the bus placards promoting the show. The definition of success is so different for you working on a show that’s on CBS versus a show that’s on USA or FX.

Absolutely.

Has it ben a different experience than making a movie or from people you know who've worked on cable shows? What's it like to be with the biggest network?

It is night and day different and it’s relentless. People have no concept of the time strain that that we're under. Right now, I'm heading to set to go film and I just left prep meetings for an episode that we start next week. Like network TV is filmed at an almost unfathomable pace. It's mind-blowing.

It’s one of those things where everything is a sacrifice, to where it's like, it's not possible to get everything right because we just definitely don’t have time to. So everything is a compromise of, all right, I'm sacrificing A or B. Which one is more important, which one can I do more right, which one makes the product feel more authentic and what means more to me as a veteran and me from this community? Where do I put my time and effort and where do we all spread it out because we can't do everything?

Here's the other interesting thing: the audience doesn’t know the difference between how something is filmed on HBO or how something is filmed on FX or History Channel versus how it's filmed on a major network.

Some shows write all of their episodes and then they film them when they're ready to film them and then they air them when they want to air them.

When our show got green-lit they said, this is your airdate. We hadn't written a single episode other than the pilot. “This is your airdate and you're gonna air every single week for this many episodes.”

We're trying to do the best possible with the opportunity. The good news is that CBS gives us access to a large pool of viewers, being on the biggest network.

The negative is that its comes at the cost of you have a fast and furious timeline. So the key is, how can we deliver the best possible product under that timeline and hopefully get as many eyes as possible on a product that we feel very good about?

Left to right: Max Thieriot as Clay Spenser, AJ Buckley as Sonny, Neil Brown Jr. as Ray and David Boreanaz as Jason Hayes. Photo: Best Screen Grab Available/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Since you’re on a network show, you guys have no idea what's going happen to any of the characters in February. It’s very different than making a show for HBO.

It's night and day. Absolutely night and day. This is my first time working on a big network. So I'm learning every single day about the process. CBS has been great. They’ve given us a ridiculous amount of leeway to tell these stories in as authentic way as we can.

At the end of the day, you know people ask me all the time, “Well, how real is it?” It's not real at all; it's a TV show. There's nothing real about it. But I want it to feel authentic. That’s our goal. That’s everyone's goal. I want veterans, active duty, and veterans and active duty's families to watch it, and the public that has no connection maybe to veterans in the military, to watch it and just go, “Oh, I understand these people and their families better. “ That’s my goal. I'm not going speak for all the advisors, but that’s my personal goal.

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