Un-Reality TV? “Off the Grid” is “off the mark”

The first thing I will say about History Channel’s new show “Off the Grid” — and really, this is a disclaimer — is that it is a really easy show to armchair quarterback as you watch it.


The reality show stars four “surveillance experts,” who attempt (I use that term loosely) to track two ordinary citizens through the streets of Los Angeles. The two contestants must complete four simple tasks without being caught to win a million dollars.


The catch is that the “chasers” have 50 HD cameras from Axis at their disposal, as well as GPS tracking software for the runners’ phones and credit card tracking software. Note to security people…never mind that the camera network is described by the chasers as “oppressive,” and please don’t be offended by this show giving its viewers the idea that they are being watched at all times the moment they step out of their homes each day.


Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the technology the chasers are using. It centers around the network of 50 Axis cameras; and don’t worry, the marketing team that landed this deal will be pleased that the Axis logo and/or cameras appeared about as many times as theoretically possible. The cameras are said to be HD cameras with embedded facial recognition software; and the show’s producers would have you believe that the mere 50 cameras are enough to put the entire city of L.A. under an impenetrable surveillance net.


But as much as this show glorifies security technology and its capabilities — although, in fairness, the fancy facial recognition software never reared its head again after it was introduced — the program absolutely does a disservice to those of you who are running a municipal surveillance network. For those security executives, public acceptance and support is a daily challenge, and shows like this make it an even more daunting task. If there was anyone out there who was “on the fence” about Big Brother and public surveillance cameras, “Off the Grid” surely pushed them over the edge and into the anti-public surveillance camp.


OK, off my soapbox and back to our regularly scheduled recap (I think a freelance gig at televisionwithoutpity.com might be in my future)...


Needless to say, the chasers seemed to toy with the two contestants. Most notably, the two normal guys illustrated just how easy it is to fall for a cheesy social engineering ploy; and how to make sure people can track you by credit card and cell phone usage. We armchair QBs in the security industry surely moaned and groaned throughout the show – if the chasers tell you they are tracking you via cell phone and credit card use, why wouldn’t you:

  1. a. Make your first stop a bank where you can get a cash advance on that credit card?
  2. b. Get the cash, then give the credit card to another person and have them use it as a distraction?
  3. c. Turn your mobile phone on and “leave” it in the back of a taxi?


SPOILER ALERT: If the contestants did any of these things, they probably would have won. Despite the fact that they were buffoons, they still managed to come within a hair of winning the cash…how convenient for the producers and exciting for the viewers!


A smart guy once told me that most reality TV is on later at night so people aren’t really thinking about the implausibility of this “reality” as they veg out on their couch. Now you know why “Off the Grid” premiered at 11 p.m. on the East Coast…


Did you see "Off the Grid"? We welcome your comments about the show below!