Summer TCA Tour Notes
WGN America’s ‘Manhattan’ To Walk Fine Line Between Fact And Fiction, Creator Says
By Lisa De Moraes, Deadline.com
- Jul. 9, 2014
WGN America’s 13-episode series Manhattan, about the race to build the world’s first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, NM, is not an allegory for current politics, creator Sam Shaw insisted today at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2014, despite suggestions otherwise by some member of the cast, and by journalists.
“It’s not The Crucible,” Shaw said, drawing blank looks from some in the Golden Globes ballroom of the Beverly Hilton as he referenced Arthur Miller’s play — in which the Salem witch trials stands in for the McCarthy era’s Committee on Un-American Activities. Maybe sensing the hesitation, Shaw acknowledged that, even when not intended, storytelling about the past “has a lot to say about this moment in time,” he said, putting the bloggers/tweeters in the hall back on more familiar ground.
WGN America's "Manhattan" Panel at TCAEarlier, Shaw got asked if J. Robert Oppenheimer — sometimes called the father of the atomic bomb, and who appeared in the first episode — would be a regular or recurring character, and if other historical figures would populate the cast. “This is not going to be a Great Men of History piece,” he said, rather, a series that trying to “capture something of what life was like for the other 7,000 people living at Los Alamos.” The model, he said, is E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime — “It’s he texture of a time and place, populated with fictional characters.”
That led one TV critic to question the use of make-believe people to develop real atomic bombs.
“There’s a fine line between fact and fiction, particularly when dealing with scientific discovery,” Shaw acknowledged, but said they’ve been able to “create a show that has scientific verisimilitude but isn’t robbing the grave of history.”
Episodes are shot in and around an abandoned Army hospital they found in New Mexico that was due to be demolished and “was filled with asbestos,” director/EP Thomas Schlamme said. There they “created a whole world [the actors] could walk into, that didn’t feel like a sound stage, but something more along the lines of what it felt like for the men and women who were transported from their homes on the east and west coast, and “plopped into the desert” to work on, or in support of, the Manhattan Project.
Asked if the government was “cooperating” with the production, Schlamme responded the government was not restricting them in any way, “so, from my point of view, they are cooperating.” And when one TV critic asked if the anti-Semitism of that era in the U.S. would be depicted, Schlamme said, “both my parents fled Nazi Germany, so I can promise you it’s a theme.”
WGN America is pulling out all the stops for the premiere of the original scripted drama series. When it debuts on July 27, the premiere episode will be seen not only on WGN America but also on Tribune stations in 33 markets nationwide including WPIX/New York, KTLA/Los Angeles, WGN/Chicago, WPHL/Philadelphia and WDCW/Washington, DC. From Shaw (Masters Of Sex), director Thomas Schlamme, Skydance TV, Tribune Studios and Lionsgate TV, follows the brilliant but flawed Los Alamos scientists and their families. John Benjamin Hickey, Daniel Stern, Olivia Williams, Ashley Zukerman and Rachel Brosnahan star.
On July 4, WGN America aired a half-hour original special looking at 1940s Los Alamos. Premiere of The Manhattan Project: Beyond The Bomb was followed by airings on Tribune stations nationwide. After the series premiere, Manhattan will continue its run on WGN America, Sundays at its regular time, 10 PM ET.
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Summer TCA Tour Notes
Investigation Discovery’s ‘Heartbreakers’ Cast Battles TV Critics
The 1980s and ’90s Hollywood hotties cast in Investigation Discovery‘s three-part summer series Heartbreakers got pretty undie-bunched this morning at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2014 when a TV critic re-named their true-crime series True Crime Sharknado.
But a giant V-shaped depression had formed in the hall long before that. TV critics in the audience had guffawed pretty loudly before the Q&A portion of the festivities when the network showed them clips of the series’ three episodes — all based on real life stories about “dreamboats who turned into nightmares,” as Group President Henry Schleiff described the project, debuting August 13.
When one TV critic began to prattle on happily about how “campy” the project is, former Baywatch babe Nicole Eggert shot back: You call it campy — but it’s a true story…It was very emotionally honest.”
“You have to approach it with a realistic sensibility… you don’t want to approach it as a joke,” chimed in former Growing Pains cutie Tracey Gold. Kevin Sorbo explained to critics they were not seeing the interviews with the stories’ actual victims that will be woven into each episode, which he said, with a straight face, gives them a “20/20 feel.”
“On top of that, they paid us a lot of money,” Sorbo snarked.
That’s when another critic suggested the series wasn’t so much 20/20 as True Crime Sharknado. ”Sharknado was a hit,” snapped Eggert, like she meant it to sting.
Exec producer Pamela Deutsch jumped in here to calm the waters, agreeing there could be — “like life” — “moments of real seriousness, moments of tenderness” and “moments of humor” in the series, adding, “it ebbs and flows that way.”
To recap: Heartbreakers is a sort of macedoine of 20/20 and Sharknado. And peace reigned — for about a minute.
Sorbo bristled when a TV critic asked him to discuss his recent “comeback” having “left Hollywood” — or, having had Hollywood leave him. “I don’t know if I left Hollywood. I shot 50 movies in the last nine years. I’ve got about eight other movies in the can,” he said.
Another critic asked Eggert to talk about the “ridiculousness” of her storyline, in which her character finds herself married to a guy who’s already got a wife. “You’re asking a woman who’s never been married – and I have two kids. Relationships are hard, and they’re difficult. The woman I portrayed had already had a failed marriage and a child and was trying to open her heart and trust somebody and he wasn’t a good guy. It’s almost typical,” Eggert responded.
Another critic, probing a wound, asked the panelists to discuss how it feels to be so entirely identified with their decades-old characters.
“They don’t ever go away,” replied Christopher Knight, aka Peter Brady, who’d looked particularly unhappy to be here — but then his clip got the biggest laugh from the critics. “I’ve reached a peace with it.” Sorbo said he hated being Hercules in the ’90s, but loved playing Captain Dylan Hunt in the more recent Andromeda, adding that he knows loads of actors who would “give one testicle to get on one series in their lifetimes.”
“If we weren’t on those shows we wouldn’t be here,” Eggert added, accurately.
Sorbo told the oft-told Michael Caine story — it may even be true — in which he was asked why he took a role in one of the Jaws movies, and if he ever actually watched the finished product, and Caine responded, “No – but I saw the house it bought me in Spain.”
In April, Investigation Discovery unveiled its new slate of cheesetastic shows, including A Stranger In My Home, Obsession: Dark Desires, Beauty Queen Murders, I’d Kill For You, Evil In-Law, Fear They Neighbor, and our personal fave, Elder Skelter, about people “too old to keep dry britches” who nonetheless committed cold, calculated crimes. “Did they suffer from dementia, or had their spent a lifetime surpressing sick fantasies?” ID asked, rhetorically.