'Missions': Possible Hit for USA

USA Network may have been wise to postpone its weekly Combat Missions— a high-testosterone twist on the reality genre — to January, since it now stands to capitalize on the nation's interest in all things military.

The show will most likely appeal to men, especially those who are in or have been in the military or law enforcement, like its contestants.

Mark Burnett has cast Rudy Boesch, the curmudgeon from the producer's first season of Survivor, as "camp commander." Boesch oversees weekly war-games tournaments that involve four six-man squads — dubbed Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta — in California's Mojave Desert.

But this is the gung-ho military version of Rudy, not the more colorful guy from Survivor. Facing men with experience in the Green Berets, Delta Force, Central Intelligence Agency special operations and police S.W.A.T. teams, Rudy cites his 45 years in the Navy (30 years in the SEALs) and his 45 Vietnam combat missions.

Throughout the 15-week season, two squads will compete for points against an enemy "shadow squad." Ultimately, one team victor and one individual champion will emerge. That's to be expected since another Missions
exec producer, Brian Gadinsky, worked on the similarly formatted American Gladiators.
The opener is the more exciting of the two shows previewed (USA offered only the first and third episodes). That's largely because it contains clips from several upcoming missions, each of which serves as a mini action/adventure movie scene.

That's no accident either, since the behind-the-scenes advisors and special-effects experts have worked on such flicks as Under Siege, Heartbreak Ridge, Pearl Harbor, Eraser
and Lethal Weapon 4.

In the first mission (Bravo vs. Charlie), the squads must destroy an enemy tank. Only one Charlie soldier survives for helicopter extraction, versus Bravo's two.

In future scenarios, the teams must rescue a pilot downed "behind enemy lines," assault an enemy fuel dump and attack a terrorist arms operation. All will feature explosives and gunfire, with laser "hits" substituting for real bullets.

Unfortunately, the third installment seems slower, except for its prisoner-of-war rescue – during which the enemy fools one squad by first deploying a decoy truck. Otherwise, there's too much time expended on small talk, training and dull competitions thrown in to allow competitors to add — or lose — points.

Near the end of each show, the losing team visits the "discharge room" to vote on whom to eject, a device Burnett obviously adapted from Survivor's tribal council. One team won't reject anyone, thereby forcing a Plan B – choosing different-sized swords.

Combat Missions
will bow on USA on Jan. 16 at 10 p.m.