‘Manh(A)ttan’ Creator: Straight-to-Series ‘Incredibly Liberating’ #TCA14

Beverly Hills, Calif.—Manh(A)ttan — about the creation of the first atomic bombs during the World War II — premieres July 27 on WGN America, marking the network’s second original scripted series. Salem, the network’s first scripted effort, premiered in April.

WGN gave Manh(A)ttan a straight-to-series order in September. At the panel for the show Wednesday at the TCA summer press tour, creator, writer and executive producer Sam Shaw said that not having to pilot the show helped shape its creative structure. “It was incredibly liberating. There’s work that any first episode of any TV show needs to do. We still felt that responsibility,” but Shaw added he did not feel the pressure that he has felt in past pilots to force story elements he wants to save for later in the series into the pilot. “It was a great experience for us that we felt freed up to slow down the storytelling.”

“It was also nice to do a show where you knew you’d have a job,” added director and executive producer Thomas Schlamme.

Other highlights from the panel included:

• Shaw confirmed that though the show’s principal characters are fictionalized, physicist Robert Oppenheimer, widely regarded as the father of the bomb, will be a recurring character. “He is a character who returns, but there is a sort of Olympian, god-like quality to him and the role he plays in our storytelling,” Shaw said. “He’s not at the forefront of every story.”

• Actor John Benjamin Hickey noted that one of the challenges of the show has been shooting in the desert in New Mexico, where the weather can have extraordinary effects. Referring to the sinus irrigation device, Hickey said, “Have you ever used a neti pot? I never knew what a neti pot was before this job.”

• Cast and crew fielded a question about the recent programming trend toward historical period dramas, such as Masters of Sex, which Shaw wrote for. “I think it’s an interesting way to do a commentary on our society now,” actor Daniel Stern said. “Indirectly talking about secrets or our NSA spying or how we go to war or what wars we fight or how we fight them or drone activity, all the things that are happening now. It’s an interesting way to bring up those tops with a little distance, a little fiction between.” Schlamme also noted that technological advances have made the effects needed to convincingly portray past periods more accessible. “Television has grown up so much in the last 20 years, so that first of all there are so many more shows, and you don’t have to restrict yourself anymore and go, ‘Well how am I going to set up a world in the 40s?’”

• Stern also expressed hope that the show would help reintroduce the threat of nuclear weapons to public debate. “There are thousands and thousands of these nuclear bombs,” he said. “They’re still there, they’re still updated every day. There are still trigger systems and codes ready to launch these things. And that conversation never happens anymore in this country.”