Dennis Haysbert, The Unit
Question: I consider myself a fan of NBC's television series E-Ring (although I must admit to having to suspend belief when I see Dennis Hopper in the role of the division chief of the Joint Staff's J-3 Special Operations Division. I will probably always see him as Peter Fonda's sidekick, Billy, in Easy Rider). I have also seen the first two episodes of CBS' The Unit, a program whose story line is ostensibly based on the book Inside Delta Force. Having held six military assignments in the Pentagon (including senior positions on the Joint Staff and within the Office of the Secretary of Defense), and being a retired Special Forces-qualified Army colonel, I must say that I believe Ken Robinson's E-Ring is the more correct version of how things are in the special-operations community (and even more specifically, of how things are in the Pentagon itself). I really don't know what to say yet about The Unit, after only two episodes, since I know that the writers are still attempting to develop the characters. But compared to the level of detail that is the hallmark of E-Ring, I think that thus far, The Unit is nowhere close. Although The Unit does attempt to show the strain that these types of missions place upon the lives of the families of special operators, I'm not sure that the show will have much staying power beyond a couple more episodes.
Answer: Thanks for the valuable insights. But from a purely TV point of view, which is all I can speak to, getting it right is not the same as making an effective TV show. And it's already pretty clear that by the measure that matters most in this unforgiving business (the weekly ratings), The Unit has won this particular battle over E-Ring, which continues to languish in hiatus until NBC invariably makes its cancellation official in the May upfronts. The Unit was an instant smash, a very commercial pairing with NCIS (which no one would laud for its realism, I'd think). E-Ring seemed to want to be the West Wing of the Pentagon, and even if it got its details right, it was lacking the sharp writing and characterizations a show that "inside" probably required. What seems to make The Unit such a popular success is the melding of its action-packed missions with the domestic intrigue among its heroes' family units. It probably also helps that the core setting of The Unit is a military base and not the claustrophobic halls of the Pentagon. If we were discussing documentaries here, a show like E-Ring could well come out on top. But that's not the business of prime-time entertainment.