In the years after each major conflict, our perceptions of the battles, and the men who fought them, are shaped by their depictions in popular culture. For many Americans, our understanding of the invasion of Normandy was shaped in movie theaters, our images of Vietnam have a soundtrack by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and returning veterans struggling with PTSD look like Sylvester Stallone passing through town in a baggy green jacket. The depictions of the military in television and movies have always been from secondhand accounts and Hollywood board rooms, but one Marine aims to change all of that.
VET TV, or Veteran Television, is a subscription service started by Donny O’Malley, a Marine infantry officer who was medically retired after serving two tours overseas. O’Malley and his dedicated team of supporters are working to take control of the veteran narrative in popular culture by creating original television shows for Post 9/11 veterans that accurately depict their experiences in uniform. Crude, obscene, and true to life, O’Malley says that the content his team produces is meant to make you laugh, but comes with an underlying theme of healing and comradery.
On VET TV’s Kickstarter page, O’Malley sums up how VET TV operates: “We make shows that accurately recreate the post 9/11 veteran experience and we do it in the most realistic, offensive, and hilarious way possible.”
I approached Donny O’Malley on Facebook to ask some questions about VET TV and the ongoing Kickstarter campaign. Within minutes, he had responded and we were on the phone. Although we’d never met before, O’Malley spoke as though we’d been friends for years; a testament to the way he feels about veterans and his strong connection to the culture he and his organization are trying to embody.
“On the surface we make highly irreverent comedy, but deep beneath the surface there’s a level of therapy included in everything we make,” O’Malley said on the early morning phone call from Southern California, “The therapy starts for some of us on set. In our first large shoot we had forty-five veterans from as far away as Arizona coming together in one spot and getting along like they’d been friends for years. For guys that have been away from a military environment for a long time, being together is rejuvenating for their spirits.”
As this article is posted, VET TV has raised nearly a hundred and fifteen thousand dollars on Kickstarter from more than fifteen hundred backers with numbers that continue to climb as O’Malley’s message reaches more like minded veterans who are hungry for a television outlet that understands them. If his goal of $250,000 is met within the next twelve days, VET TV will become a streaming subscription reality; providing veterans with content made specifically for them and depicting every aspect of military life with a humorous angle, but tempered with regular discussions about the challenges faced by today’s veterans.
“One sketch comedy show we have in the works promises to be controversial and offensive,” O’Malley, like many veterans, uses words like offensive with a hint of pride, “We’ll choose a topic for each episode and make fun of it, but then we’ll talk about it once we get done laughing. We’re making comedy, but it’s comedy with a purpose. I think we can be more influential if we discuss things after we laugh about them together.”
O’Malley has eight shows in various stages of production, but plans to eventually encompass even more of military life through content targeted at each occupational specialty across all branches of the armed forces. Current projects include “A Grunt’s Life,” which will pull heavily from O’Malley’s experiences as an infantry officer in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, a veteran version of the dating game, and shows that depict military experiences in the air wing, medical corps, on ship and in administration.
Ultimately, O’Malley’s vision for VET TV is about empowering veterans and helping them to feel good about their service. If the Kickstarter reaches its funding goal, he promises to release new shows every week that can be viewed on any mobile device or via television streaming devices like Roku and Apple TV.
O’Malley envisions partnering with existing networks in the future to produce even more content that will be available through traditional television channels as well. “We have a special voice, the networks don’t need more cameras or better lighting, what Hollywood needs is a voice that they don’t currently have. VET TV has that voice.”
Images courtesy of VET TV