Reality TV employs drill sergeants to 'push up'

A dose of military reality may be just what so-called "reality TV" needs.

Fox airs the first of its new eight-part series "Boot Camp" Wednesdays, beginning March 28 (9-10 p.m.). And TBS premieres its two-hour special and possible series pilot "War Games" at the same time. What a choice.

"Boot Camp is the closest thing to actual Marine boot camp you can get," says executive producer Bill Paolantonio, who, in collaboration with Eric Schotz and Scott Messick, enlisted the help of real Marine drill instructors to whip 16 "recruits" (actually, contestants) into a lean, mean fighting machine.

At the end of each hour, two people are eliminated from the group - one is "dismissed" by the whole squad, and the other is "discharged" by the dismissed recruit. All kinds of opportunity for revenge - you get dismissed and you discharge your own nemesis. When in the eighth episode, it's down to two recruits, they run the "gauntlet," a gruelling series of physical and mental challenges.

"Every one who participated became better people," Mr. Paolantonio says. "Everyone of them has told me that it was a life-changing experience."

Contrary to expectations, the program empowers women, Paolantonio says, because it's not just about physical strength. "It's also about mental discipline and the ability to get along with others. Viewers will look at the recruits' progress and see it as a compelling drama with game [show] elements."

"War Games" is no game show. TBS takes us inside real military-training exercises. It's the authenticity that's truly gripping here, as officers prepare fighting men and women to deal with urban warfare, submarine emergencies, and air combat - and learn assault and counter-assault strategies.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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