Hey, I’m not watching it either, because until yesterday, I’d never heard of it. The Wanted combines the sensibilities of America’s Most Wanted with the global war on terror by finding terrorists, genocidists, and other known human-rights abusers around the world. Unlike on AMW, which finds criminals hiding from law enforcement, The Wanted finds their targets living in the open in countries that seem uninterested in bringing them to justice until Adam Ciralsky and his team of former special-ops forces shame them into action:

In a sense, the men of The Wanted exemplify the power of investigative journalism at its best. They use an aggressive documentary style, but at the heart of their effort is a dedication to openness and accountability and its ability to prevail over terrorism. One says, “At the end of the day, the rule of law is more powerful than the rule of the gun,” and the show itself is a testimonial to their belief in that slogan.

In this episode, presented in its 45-minute entirety through NBC’s video library, The Wanted finds the founder of Ansaar-al-Islam, a notorious al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, living openly in Norway. The Norwegian Supreme Court ruled that Mullak Krekar had to be deported, but the Norwegian government had dragged its feet, ostensibly worried about potential torture or execution for Krekar if extradited to Iraq. The squad confronts both Norway and Krekar.

How has this been received by critics? Surprisingly, the Washington Post’s Tom Shales gave it a great review, although he initially worried about the blurring of lines between journalism and activism:

Is this actual journalism or some kind of crazed commando reportage? A half-century or so ago, Edward R. Murrow produced a television program in which, he hoped, Sen. Joe McCarthy, given enough rope, would tie himself into a frenzied pretzel. Murrow did not, however, wait outside McCarthy’s office so he could pounce on him with a camera crew while shouting “J’accuse!” “The Wanted” goes to almost that extreme, and if it’s to be commended for making the basic conflict graphic and comprehensible, it’s also to be treated with a certain degree of wary skepticism.

Perhaps the times have changed to such an extreme that the old rules have to change as well. In any case, the crack team of journalists and producers behind “The Wanted” take their jobs with sobering seriousness. These soldiers of fortune include Roger Carstens, an expert on counter-intelligence and counter-insurgency; Scott Tyler, a former Navy SEAL and expert on “urban reconnaissance and unconventional warfare”; former U.S. intelligence official David Crane; and co-executive producers Adam Ciralsky and Charlie Ebersol. Ciralsky is an Emmy-winning journalist, and Ebersol — son of NBC Sports President (and Olympics producer) Dick Ebersol — says of the new venture, “The pairing of rigorous investigative journalism with high-end production values has resulted in a fast-paced show which we hope will leave viewers wanting more.” …

Whatever theoretical quibbles one might make with the show’s style, its substance is strong and the overall effect is a highly charged knockout. “The Wanted” could also prove to be “The Needed.”

Unfortunately, not everyone likes being KO’d by The Wanted. In a later episode (as yet unscheduled), the team tracked down a figure indicted in the Rwandan genocide, Leopold Munyakazi, in Maryland — where he taught at Goucher College in Towson. Interpol has a wanted notice (a “red note”) for his arrest. Adam Ciralsky interviewed Goucher president Sandy Ungar during the show about how they could have missed Munyakazi’s warrant in a background search.

That appears to have touched a major nerve at Goucher. Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik wrote a scathing series of blasts against The Wanted — but in at least one of those posts, fails to mention his connection to Goucher College where he works as a teacher, or the fact that the show outed one of his colleagues. Zurawik did mention it in an earlier post, as well as subsequent ones:

That is possibly relevant because NBC News producers came to Goucher last year to film an interview allegedly for Dateline with a visiting professor from Rwanda. The story of their presence on campus was reported in the Sun including the allegations that the professor was a war criminal. No mention was made of The Wanted — only Dateline.

I’d call that pretty relevant, especially since his first post on the matter asked why NBC News had set itself up as an arbiter of who qualifies as a terrorist — and then accused them of McCarthyism. Bear in mind that this post came before Zurawik had watched the show, the episode on Mullah Krekar, an internationally wanted terrorist and the founder of an al-Qaeda affiliate with responsibility for hundreds of deaths.

Decide for yourself. Watch this episode, and tune in Monday night at 9 pm ET to see the next.

Addendum: Kudos to Dove Hair Care for sponsoring the web broadcast; it’s an interesting and edgy choice for that product.

Update: Earlier, I used the somewhat-inaccurate term “commandos”. I replaced it with the better “special-ops forces”.