Sgt. 1st Class Brad Turner was in his element. Standing in a supermarket, with a military band nearby, the man otherwise known as the "Grill Sergeant" was demonstrating how to make a tasty jambalaya. "There's no magical formula," he bellowed in his Southern twang, playing to the camera during an episode of his eponymous show. "If you don't have any good taste, then this is not going to work for you."
The Grill Sergeants was the cheeky cooking show with a clever name that was for years produced by the Pentagon. It brought cheers and jeers. But none of that mattered since the show was produced when times were good and defense money, like Turner's jambalaya, poured forth.
The Grill Sergeants, like many other TV programs produced by the U.S. Defense Department, is no more. And soon, the Defense Department's broadcast network -- the one that showed the Pentagon-approved cooking show -- may itself be part of military history. Budget cuts and fewer blank checks mean the Pentagon needs to rethink nice-to-have services that were once a given. And the Pentagon Channel, as the network is known, is likely on the brink of a major downsizing, Defense Department sources say.
"The Pentagon Channel is one of the few if not the only one where you can communicate directly to service members and their families," said Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Pentagon. "That doesn't mean we can't find better ways of doing business."
A while back, there had been high hopes for the Pentagon Channel. Fancy, pearl-draped hopes.
Washington society mavens know Tammy Haddad as the bubbly party-thrower and socialite whose prominence peaks each spring for the celebrity-politico-and-journalist-laden brunch she holds before the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Haddad was recently highlighted in Mark Leibovich's This Town -- a book about the intersection of politics, power, and the media -- and was portrayed as part of the incestuous, schmooze-and-use culture of Washington. But at the Defense Department, she's also known for her work for the Pentagon's public affairs office, which contracted with Haddad, a former television producer, a couple of years back to consult on its media operations, including the department's internal broadcast network, the Pentagon Channel.
Only the advice didn't seem to pay off, for whatever reason, and now budget cuts mean her recommendations are "OBE" in military parlance -- overcome by events. According to defense officials, Haddad, a fundraiser, events organizer, and media consultant, was paid about $92,000 for an 11-month advisory project in which she acted as a "programming consultant" for the Pentagon Channel, whose shows were regularly evoking ridicule from Congress members and even some military folks. Haddad, a former television producer for CNN, NBC and other media organizations, is thought to have a keen eye when it comes to communications and production values. She was hired by the Pentagon's top public affairs office at the time, Doug Wilson, "to provide expert advice and recommendations" on how to modernize and expand the Pentagon Channel's programming, according to a Defense Department spokesman. She worked as a consultant for the Pentagon officially between October 2010 and September 2011.
Haddad had grand plans for the channel, making recommendations to infuse it with more sophistication and cool in an attempt to appeal to young and older audiences alike -- a mix of VH1 and the History Channel.