A new wave of viewers-both young and old-rediscovered network TV’s lone military drama “JAG” last week.
The CBS drama opened its sixth season with best-ever ratings in its core adults 25 to 54 demographic-in addition to scoring unexpected second-best numbers in the adults 18 to 34 and adults 18 to 49 demos. In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the ongoing U.S. military buildup in the Middle East, “JAG” appears to be tapping into newfound patriotism.
“I’d like to think there [is] a renewed sense of patriotism, because I find it particularly satisfying the young adults are returning in a show of unity with some of the older adult viewers who are historically into the moral themes and values of our show,” said Don Bellisario, creator and executive producer of “JAG.”
“JAG,” whose name is an acronym for the Navy’s Judge Advocate General military justice branch, tied ABC’s hour-long season opener of “Dharma & Greg” with a 5.0 Nielsen Media Research rating and 13 share in adults 18 to 49. The show had 39 percent growth in the key adult demo, and the second half-hour of “JAG” (5.4/14) even outscored Fox’s new college comedy “Undeclared” (5.1/13) in adults 18 to 49.
“JAG’s” season premiere-which was the second part of last season’s cliffhanger-generated 48 percent growth in adults 18 to 34 compared with its year-ago premiere average (3.6/11 vs. 2.6/8). In its core adults 25 to 54 demo, the hour drama moved up 37 percent to a best-ever 6.7/16 average. Overall, “JAG” also won the time period in households (12.0/10) and total viewers (17.8 million), making it the highest-rated and most-watched episode since Nov. 30, 1999 (12.4/19, 18.3 million viewers).
“Because of the strong patriotic feelings we are going through right now and the interest in military-based entertainment programming, I do think it is particularly true that younger viewers are seeking that sense of unity with older viewers,” said David Poltrack, CBS’s executive vice president of research and planning. “[The younger viewership] should hopefully be a growth trend, and it should continue to build over time.”
While last week’s concluding episode of the “JAG” cliffhanger had nothing to do with terrorism, concerns have been raised throughout Hollywood’s creative ranks about how to address any new sensitivities Americans have toward terrorism threats.
“Unlike some new shows that started and ended with terrorist bombings [CBS’s `The Agency’ and Fox’s `24′], we don’t have that problem, because we typically focus on how the military justice works out,” Mr. Bellisario said.
At this time, Mr. Bellisario said, he is working with “JAG’s” writers and producers on exploring issues like the military’s current buildup and preparedness-both internationally and domestically. In particular, Mr. Bellisario said contacts the show has at the Pentagon indicated that at least 15 JAG officers have been called up from the reserves, with “a lot of them discussing legalities and causes of action” domestically and abroad in the wake of the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
“I’m sure there will be story lines related to [the attack on the Pentagon], but we’re still seeing how we could legitimately work it into a story line and if it would remain current,” he said. “For now, I think we’re going to focus our story lines on military preparedness and how the reserves are being called to join the service ranks.”
In walking that fine line between moral and judicial matters of law, however, Mr. Bellisario has mirrored some ripped-from-the-headlines terrorism events on the show in the past. For example, after the Oct. 12, 2000, terrorist bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, Mr. Bellisario commissioned a script dealing with beefed-up security on a Navy destroyer and legal questions over whether a female Marine (who had been kidnapped) had become an accomplice or abettor of a terrorist group plotting a similar small-craft, amphibious bombing.
There was also a highly sensitive episode dealing with an American serviceman committing rape on foreign soil, which followed the conviction of a Marine Corps serviceman for raping a young girl in Okinawa, Japan.
“That kind of stuff has happened in different parts of the world and by different foreign armies for many, many years, so the purpose of that was to show how the internal judicial functions of U.S. military handles investigations of certain bad eggs,” Mr. Bellisario said. “If you think in terms of it where you have a bad cop in the police force, it’s the same sort of internal forms of justice in the military that follows the due process of law in bringing certain people to justice. People may think this is a jingoistic show that showcases only good and proud of the Navy and Marine Corps, but it also takes a marked point of view on how the military deals with issues of criminal justice.”