Clark's boot camp: Why the four-star general took a reality TV job

August 4th, 2012

New York Post
By Larry Getlen
August 4, 2012

Former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark is a retired four-star general who served as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO’s forces in Europe. So when he describes a combat situation as exciting, he knows what he’s talking about.

“Imagine you’re carrying 60 pounds of equipment,” says Clark, who co-hosts the new NBC military adventure series, “Stars Earn Stripes,” that premieres Monday, Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. “You’re sitting in the open door of a helicopter, with weapons. You fly over a lake, and you’re 15, 20 feet high. The helicopter jerks to a hover, and you’re told, ‘Exit! Now!’ Out of the helicopter, helmet on, weapons, 60 pounds of equipment, boom. Into water. You don’t know if it’s 10 feet [off the ground], or 15, or 30. You can’t tell.”

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Chris Haston/NBC
Gen. Wesley Clark co-hosts the show with Samantha Harris.

What makes this description especially fascinating is that the people viewers will watch trying to meet this otherworldly challenge, and more like it, are not stunt professionals, but mere celebrities, including Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street, boxer Laila Ali, former “Superman” actor Dean Cain, WWE wrestler Eve Torres, actor and former NFL player Terry Crews, “Biggest Loser” trainer Dolvett Quince, singer Nick Lachey and political hubby Todd Palin.

Conceived by producers Mark Burnett and Dick Wolf, “Stars Earn Stripes” pairs each celebrity with one of a collection of military and law enforcement personnel, including a veteran of the Army’s Delta Force, a former SWAT commander, and several former Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets.

These eight two-person teams faced off in combat-related missions that were filmed in June at secret locations throughout Southern California.

As viewers will see, the teams that take the longest amount of time to complete their mission pair off in a shootout where they kick in the doors of a “shoot house,” and take out targets with live ammunition. The slower of the two to hit all their targets is eliminated from the show.

Each team plays on behalf of a military charity such as the Wounded Warrior Project, the Pat Tillman Foundation and the USO. The charities get $10,000 for every mission their team completes, and the charity of the eventual winner will get an additional $100,000.

But in addition to helping charities and celebrating the US military, “Stars Earn Stripes” aims to create a virtual, big-budget action series, the likes of which reality television has never seen before.

“There’s one mission that takes place in an industrial area of a rock quarry,” says executive producer David A. Hurwitz. “They get helicoptered to the top of a building, and have to rappel down on top of this 80-foot building. Then, they have to rappel down the side of the building, before going in and taking out targets. And, explosions are going off all around them.”

To capture this action, Hurwitz employed over 50 video- recording devices, including, on one mission, he says, “13 or 14 man-operated cameras, a camera in a helicopter, cameras on the gun looking over the muzzle, and cameras looking back at [the contestant’s] eyeball.”In addition to providing authenticity for the show’s military focus, the presence of Clark, who co-hosts with former “Dancing With the Stars” co-host Samantha Harris, helped give the missions credible, reality-based details.“When I was trying to explain how to utilize him, I said, ‘I can see you giving a nice debriefing,’ ” says Hurwitz. “He immediately said, ‘Well, what we do is an AAR — an After Action Review — where we get together and discuss the positives and negatives.’ If he wasn’t involved, it would have been called a debriefing. Now it’s called the After Action Review, and it has much more purpose.”

While the appreciation of the military is certainly a noble cause, many viewers will surely also tune in to see the likes of Palin, Lachey and the rest strive for — and occasionally fail at — these almost super-human feats.Clark and Hurwitz don’t dish about which celebrities may have floundered under pressure, but Hurwitz did reveal one close call.“Without giving you the name, we had what could best be described as a near drowning,” says Hurwitz. “The truth is, if [our safety personnel] weren’t there, it would have been a drowning. But because of the safety that’s put in place, it turned out to be a water rescue. You’re wearing 60 pounds of equipment, you just jumped out of a helicopter — there’s more things that can go wrong than right.”This near-mishap aside, Hurwitz swears that the skill levels of the celebrities will surprise viewers.“It’s like with ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ where you see the evolution of their skill set,” he says. “For someone like Nick, who’s a novice with weapons, with the skills the operatives are imparting, you see the skill set grow over the evolution of the show. As a result, it’s a horse race right to the end.”

Despite the show’s structure, the desire to salute the military means the absence of typical reality television pettiness (“It’s the only reality show without backstabbing, but it does have shooting,” notes Hurwitz), and that the creators’ ultimate hope for the show is that it imbues viewers with a deepened respect for the Armed Forces.

“There’s a great message here — a thank you to our men and women of the Armed Forces, and the law enforcement people that protect us at home,” Hurwitz says.