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Fusion's The Traffickers could also be a starmaker


”Host” Nelufar Hedayat both reports and emotes in The Traffickers. Fusion photo

Premiering: Airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. (central) on Fusion
Hosted by: Nelufar Hedayat
Produced by: Simon Chinn, Jonathan Chinn, Isaac Lee, Daniel Eilemberg, Keith Summa, Sam Collyns

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It’s a pretty safe bet that nine of 10 Americans either have never heard of the Fusion network or have no idea where to find it on their sprawling cable or satellite menus.

So before getting to The Traffickers, here’s a brief primer.

Fusion, owned by Univision Communications, was launched in October 2013 as a replacement for the failed ABC News Now. Its target audience is English-speaking millennials, and the programming mix has ranged from The Cannabusiness Report to My Selfie Life. There’s also a Fusion version of Nightline, although it’s hard to tell the difference these days.

The Traffickers, which premiered with back-to-back hours on Sunday, Nov. 13th, is meant to be far more serious-minded than any of the above. The eight-part series is billed as a “global journey inside the hidden world of trafficking,” whether it’s babies, vital organs, guns or precious metals.

Episode 3, airing on Sunday, Nov. 20th, plunges intrepid 28-year-old “host” Nelufar Hedayat into the international world of illegal kidney peddling. Hedayat, who previously worked for the BBC and also writes about the fashion and beauty industry for GlamMonitor.com, is an Afghanistan refugee who arrived in the United Kingdom at the age of six. She is very much front and center in The Traffickers, which can still be off-putting to those who prefer a more “traditional” form of journalism.

One can admire Hedayat’s passion while also wishing she’d reign herself in and stop with the posing and occasional histrionics. She’s serious about pursuing the truth, and certainly is no airhead. Still, in Episode 1, it’s more than a bit much to see her teary-eyed at one point and steeling herself at another. “I’m going to track down these child-finders and see how they do it,” she vows after journeying from Colorado to the Congo. Hedayat certainly puts in the legwork while also usually teaming up with a “fixer” (journalist) on the scene. The production values are impressive throughout.

One of the series’ better exchanges comes in this Sunday’s “Organs for Sale” episode. Hedayat meets with a 63-year-old thrill seeker whose lifestyle was greatly compromised when his kidneys shut own. The man’s sister donated one of hers, but it eventually failed him at age 58. So he bought another one in Pakistan from a dirt-poor farmer who was paid $3,000. That’s a bargain, but for the desperate farmer it supposedly was a financial windfall. When Hedayat questions whether he exploited the donor, the recipient replies with some agitation, “You want to force people to be altruistic. Good luck.”

Journeying to Bangladesh to see the illicit kidney trade up close and personal, Hedayat and a resident journalist finally get a donor to talk to them. “Can I see your scar? Oh my Holiness!” Hedayat gasps when a man shows her the end result of being paid $6,000 for one of his two kidneys. He’s since been shunned by his neighbors because “selling body parts goes against their Islamic faith.”

But “for the wealthy,” Hedayat tells viewers, “these people are vessels. They’re containers.”

Some of this is eye-opening, even heartbreaking. And Hedayat is not one to hide her emotions. Dispassionate reporting isn’t her thing, and Fusion clearly believes that most millennials feel the same way about how they want the news delivered to them.

The Traffickers is in league with HBO’s Vice in terms of its hands-on, emotionally charged approach. Hedayat doesn’t just report. She feels the pain, the anguish, sometimes even the joy. And her declarations can be unequivocal: “This is black and white. This is clear. This is wrong.” She also lets it be known that “I feel kind of crushed by the weight of what she’s saying.”

Hedayat clearly has the ability, the drive, the looks and yes, the acting ability, to someday be an ABC News reporter or host. Among the Big Four broadcast networks, ABC above all prizes “star quality” journalists who wear their empathy and/or outrage on their sleeves. The Traffickers might someday be remembered as the series that put this still budding talent on radar screens -- even if not on many home screens. Fusion remains barely a blip in the grand TV scheme of things. But if the “right” people are watching . . .


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