Off the Grid: The History Channel's million dollar manhunt

Dec. 7, 2011 -- Tomorrow night (Thursday, Dec. 8) at 11 p.m. ET/10 p.m. CT, a new show premiers on The History Channel that pits two regular Americans against an "A-team" of surveillance experts in a race to stay hidden. It's called "Off the Grid", and the catch for this reality TV show is that the two contestants win a million dollars if they can remain hidden from the surveillance experts for a single day, while completing a few essential tasks in downtown Los Angeles. It's a real-life game of cat-and-mouse for the biggest purse prize in cable TV history.

Armed with only very basic information about the two contestants, a team of surveillance experts led by human tracking expert Kevin Reeve, is tasked with learning enough about the contestants to find where they might be and then to go out and actually bring them in. At Kevin's disposal are Rob (an experienced hacker) and Matt (a proven corporate security IT specialist). These guys can infiltrate your cell phone, gain access to public records information and generally put the digital eye on you. Also on the team is Dave, a former Navy SEAL who works a day job training SEAL teams in California. They're exactly the four guys you wouldn't want tracking you in an urban environment.

Despite their backgrounds and knowledge, co-producer Charlie Ebersol (who also produced NBC's terrorist-tracking program "The Wanted") said it's still a tough job for these guys to pursue people who want to remain hidden. He added that it raises bigger questions about being hidden in today's electronic environment.

"One of the reasons that this show is so appealing is that we all live in a digital world and people are starting to realize that what they do and where they go can be tracked," said Ebersol, who says the program is like a reality TV version of the movie "Enemy of the State".

As for the security industry, you'll recognize a number of technologies used in the surveillance. There are cameras from Axis Communications and FLIR, UAVs used for video surveillance, facial recognition technology, Ostendo surveillance monitors, mapping technology, advanced mobile communications from Skype, Pelican's tough "go cases", a mobile command unit, and high-end server technology for integrating all the tracking and personnel information that the pursuit team generates.

"We're selling that this is real technology used by the DoD world," said Ebersol. "It is incredibly important for us to be authentic; it's not the Jack Bauer version of technology."

"I would say that what you learn by watching the show is the combination of the right technology with the right personnel who have the ability to get on the street," explained co-producer Justin Hochberg, who said the "Off the Grid" program might eventually develop into a TV series.

The program spun out of similar programs Reeve had done in the past, tracking shows that pitted his team to chase criminals in the desert, and out of his regular seminar programs that train everyday citizens on how to minimize their ability to be tracked in an urban environment. A former instructor from the Tom Brown tracking school, he later turned to training law enforcement and military special ops personnel, before beginning to offer his popular civilian and law enforcement courses through his firm OnPoint Tactical.

To prepare the contestants for the first show, the show's staff did tell the contestants what kind of surveillance team they were pitted against and Reeve shared with the contestants some valuable tips so they would be prepared for the tracking and surveillance onslaught they were about to face.

As to whether the tracking team wins or the contestants escape with a million dollars, you won't know until tomorrow night, but Reeve said "With a million dollars on the line, the producers looked at us with terror the entire time; they were hoping we were as good as we said we were."

Quick info:
"Off the Grid: Million Dollar Manhunt" reality television program
The History Channel, 11 ET/10 CT, Dec. 8, 2011
YouTube trailer video for "Off the Grid"