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CBS picks up Mark Burnett's controversial child-rescue 'Recovery' show for midseason

By Wade Paulsen, 08/09/2004 

One of the rare flops in the body of work of reality-TV "superproducer" Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice, The Restaurant) was a USA Networks show called Combat Missions, featuring former military and law enforcement personnel performing various rescues and stealth operations. According to viewers, one of the reasons that it flopped was that the "good guys" had to fight an unconvincing "shadow squad" of bad guys.

Looks like Burnett has solved that problem.

Daily Variety reports that CBS has purchased a six-episode reality-documentary series from Burnett entitled Recovery as a midseason replacement. The show focuses on a team of former military and law enforcement personnel, led by ex-CIA operative Bazzel Baz, who search for kidnapped children ... and, of course, their kidnappers.

Burnett's production team spent 18 months developing the concept and filming the pilot for Recovery under high secrecy, so that the safety of the children being sought was not put in jeopardy. Good thing, too ... that's probably the only reason that Fox hadn't stolen the concept and execution for a quickie copycat before Recovery ever aired.

In addition to Baz, the child recovery team includes an ex-Scotland Yard detective, a former Secret Service officer, a former S.W.A.T officer and an analyst.

Burnett said that each episode would follow one or two children. "The show is like Without a Trace, but it's with a kid who really has been taken," Burnett told Variety. "It's been the most amazing journey you can imagine. There's nothing bigger than this. It's more than just television."

However, some so-called "child welfare" group have blasted the mere concept of Recovery, alleging that the show exploits the children by using their plight for entertainment purposes. For example, Lindsey Brooks, investigating manager for Child Quest International in Campbell, Calif, told the Knight-Ridder Newspapers that "the idea for [Recovery] sickens me. These children he plans to recover have already been extremely emotionally damaged by being abducted. Now Burnett wants to exploit them by being on a TV show."

Of course, the whole idea of custody orders is that a U.S. court has determined the healthiest environment for the child to live in ... and the show documents an attempt to return the child to that environment. So why would that be viewed as "exploitation"? Well, perhaps it has to do with the fact that Child Quest's Website says that it is funded "through private and corporate donations and fundraising events." But, Burnett told Variety that "maybe there's a way corporate sponsorship could be used to find a way to start an organization to [rescue children]."

In other words, it appears that Burnett wants to set up his own entity, using the people featured on his show, to do the same thing (though not in the same way) as Child Quest while competing with them for funding. Small wonder that Child Quest is opposed to Mark Burnett's project.

Even sillier are the comments made to Knight-Ridder by the usually-sensible Matthew Felling, media director at the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., who was worried that the show would give child-kidnappers hints about avoiding capture. Felling stated that, if the show results in "even one child" not being rescued, "the program is complicit in the kidnapping" -- completely ignoring the intervening criminal act of the kidnapper.

We wonder whether Mr. Felling also believes that a driver who gives a shooting victim a ride to the hospital is responsible for his passenger's loss of blood.

The potential for controversy may have been the reason that CBS, which has been involved in other controversial projects recently, required Burnett to film a pilot before picking up the show. "I'm an impatient guy, and it's been a very unique experience going through the pilot process when I'm used to getting series orders," he said.

We note that, if Burnett and Baz's team have trouble finding enough kidnapped children in America, there are plenty of kidnapped American children to be found overseas in such countries as Saudi Arabia. And, since Saudi TV is censored, there is no danger of Saudi bad guys picking up "how-to" kidnapping tips from the show.....

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