‘The Americans’ Toasts Coldest of Cold War Years

With season four of The Americans premiering on FX March 16, the network has come up with a unique marketing strategy bringing viewers back to the dark, cold days of 1983, when the U.S. and Soviet Union were locked in a stalemate of deep mistrust.

The series is of course about a married couple in suburban Washington, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who are KGB spies. It’s set in 1983.

FX worked with The Washington Post on a multimedia feature that focuses on the “annus horribilis” that is 1983. The year’s timeline includes a speech from President Reagan famously dubbing the Soviets an “evil empire”, and the president’s far-out missile defense initiative dubbed “Star Wars.” Through video and newspaper clips, the feature also details a Soviet jet fighter shooting down a Korean Air 747, and ends on a landmark TV event: ABC airing the nuclear apocalypse movie The Day After, which the Washington Post story from that time notes was watched by about 100 million people.

The timeline feature launched Thursday and runs up until the Americans premiere.

Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, executive producers, spoke with B&C about the show in our current issue. Weisberg told Jon Lafayette the new season is more about the family issues than national security issues: “We talk a lot about how this season is more focused on the emotional stuff in the Jennings family. But the fact is there is a plot that runs through the whole season about national security that is huge in terms of how much damage could be inflicted. That does play quite large, though there’s no question the overall focus of the time and emotion of this season is around the family.”

I spoke with Eric Schrier, president, original programming for FX Networks and FX Prods, about how many more seasons may be left. He said no immediate end is in sight, and he is “pretty confident” The Americans will live on beyond season four.

We also spoke about the legacy of The Americans, which launched in January 2013 and has helped, along with The Shield and Sons of Anarchy and Fargo and other series, establish FX as a place for edgy, well-crafted dramas. “When a show is considered one of the best shows on television,” Schrier said, “it does fantastic things for your brand.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.