July 9, 2008 / 1:42 AM / in 9 years

"Generation Kill" tests appetite for war on TV

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The team behind critical hit television drama “The Wire” brings the Iraq War into U.S. living rooms this Sunday in HBO’s “Generation Kill,” taking on what has proven to be a dangerous minefield for Hollywood.

<p>Stark Sands (L) and Alexander Skarsgard are seen in an undated screenshot from HBO's "Generation Kill." REUTERS/Paul Schiraldi/HBO/Handout</p>

“Generation Kill” draws on the stories of real Marines from a reconnaissance battalion, without changing their names. One former Marine plays himself in the series, about a motley collection of soldiers entering Iraq at the war’s outset.

It is based on a book by former embedded journalist Evan Wright, who chronicled the 2003 U.S.-led invasion through the eyes of Marines in the First Reconnaissance Battalion.

In a sign of how raw and reality-based the show’s material is, more than a dozen Marines from the battalion still serve in the military -- and some are now fighting in Iraq.

HBO’s “The Wire” earned strong reviews, wide praise and a Peabody Award for its gritty look at an urban police force trying to tackle crime and corruption in Baltimore, but its viewership, though very loyal, has remained relatively small.

Likewise, the major hurdle for the hard-edged “Generation Kill” is reaching audiences who, for the most part, have shunned war-related TV dramas and movies about Iraq.

But David Simon, who created the “The Wire” and “Generation Kill,” told Reuters the opinions that matter most to him are those of the Marines.

“I don’t make much attempt to worry about who’s going to watch the show,” Simon said. “You find a good story, you tell it as well as you can and whoever comes, comes.”

Marines have been shown the series in early screenings, and the response has been positive, Simon said.

“I felt very relieved,” he said, adding the joke. “They have guns, they know how to use heavy weapons.”

LITTLE APPETITE FOR WAR

But so far, U.S. audiences have mostly shunned dramatized versions of the war because, experts have said, they have been bombarded for years by mostly bad news coming out of Iraq.

Movies such as “In the Valley of Elah” and “Stop-Loss” tanked at box offices.

In 2005, Steven Bochco, who created such hit shows as “NYPD Blue” and “Hillstreet Blues,” ushered war drama “Over There” onto cable TV, doing what had never been attempted on U.S. airwaves by portraying an ongoing conflict in a drama series.

But viewership for “Over There” plummeted after its initial airing. It launched with 4.1 million viewers, but by the end of a 13-episode run was averaging half that. It was not renewed.

Journalist Wright, 43, who wrote for Rolling Stone magazine, said U.S. audiences don’t know what to make of dramatic portrayals of the Iraq War.

“We do hope that by connecting the public to the experiences of the soldiers we can maybe have people feel more engaged with them,” Wright said.

The show stars relatively unknown actors such as Alexander Skarsgard, James Ransone and Jon Huertas, but veteran soldiers like Eric Kocher, 28, a former Marine who is portrayed as a character in the mini-series, served as show advisers.

Kocher said “Generation Kill” is faithful to his experience but added that some scenes of him and other soldiers talking like -- well, soldiers -- may not play well on TV.

“I think it’s going to take a little bit for (audiences) to digest,” Kocher said. “The first thing, nobody’s going to really understand is the type of humor we have. It’s a very complex, raw humor.”

The seven-part HBO mini-series airs on Sundays, starting July 13 and continues through August 24.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and David Wiessler

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