A new ABC unscripted series will take an unprecedented look behind the scenes at the government’s fight against terrorism.
The network has ordered 11 hours of “Border Security USA” from executive producer Arnold Shapiro (“Big Brother”). Shot on location throughout the United States, the series will focus on the efforts of border protection agencies to halt illegal smuggling and immigration.
A typical episode might jump from a border patrol in Texas to security screeners at a New York airport to a Coast Guard boat off Puerto Rico.
“Border” is billed as the first multiepisode television series to be shot in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, as well as several other government agencies.
“We’re showing everyday heroes who are risking their lives to protect us,” said Shapiro, who also produced the law enforcement series “Rescue 911” and the classic jailhouse documentary “Scared Straight.” “Every mode of transportation to get into the country, we have covered.”
“Border” is based on the Australian series “Border Security: Australia’s Front Line,” which debuted in 2004. ABC purchased the rights to the format and tapped Shapiro to shepherd the U.S. version. Shapiro wrangled the cooperation of the DHS (as well as the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, United States Citizenship & Immigration Services, the Secret Service, Customs & Border Protection and Immigration & Customs Enforcement). The network plans to launch “Border” sometime next season.
The security agents depicted in the show stop a wide range of criminal behavior. In one episode, customs finds a human skull shipped through the mail. In another, a Coast Guard boat chases cocaine smugglers.
Yet it’s the show’s depiction of the government’s post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts that’s bound to draw the most attention. In one story, two young men of Iranian descent are denied entry into the country when one is found to have relatives with ties to a terrorist organization and the other carries a fake ID.
“That’s (the agents’) No. 1 mission: to protect the country from terrorists and from terrorist materials, such as bombs,” Shapiro said. “We haven’t been there with a camera when an actual terrorist has been caught, but we’ve seen a few people not admitted because they’re on watch lists. Nobody wants to be the officer who lets in the next terrorist.”
Fox’s long-running “Cops” is the most obvious comparison to “Border,” but Shapiro emphasizes there will be several differences between the series. Each “Border” episode will intercut between 10 stories that will showcase an eclectic array of locations, law enforcement agents and crimes. Since security agents spend large stretches of time searching for criminal activity rather than responding to emergency calls, Shapiro estimates he had to shoot 100 minutes of footage for every one minute of action used on the show.
“It has more diversity than ‘Cops,’ and people really learn a lot from watching this,” Shapiro said. “You see a lot of people who are not admitted into the country, and you learn why. You will become a more knowledgeable traveler in terms of crossing the border.”
But not too knowledgeable. Shapiro said he’s been asked to keep confidential a few tactics used by border agents. Otherwise, the agencies welcomed a depiction of their day-to-day efforts.
“They want people to know how diligent they are,” Shapiro said. “You hear about every problem that the Department of Homeland Security is having; you never hear about what they’re doing that’s good.”
Such security problems in recent years have ranged from media reports of border agents taking bribes, to ongoing concerns that cargo inspections at airports and shipping ports remain dangerously lax.
Shapiro said “Border” will tell “the other side of the story.”
“I love investigative journalism, but that’s not what we’re doing,” he said. “This show is heartening. It makes you feel good about these people who are doing their best to protect us.”