History Hopes 'Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman' Breaks Out with Viewers

Great Escapes with Morgan Freeman
(Image credit: History)

History will go behind the scenes of famous prison escapes as part of a new original docuseries, Great Escapes With Morgan Freeman, premiering Nov. 9.

The eight-part series, produced by Freeman’s Revelations Entertainment, will chronicle through dramatic recreations and cutting-edge visual effects how prisoners escaped from such notoriously secure prisons as Alcatraz, Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY and the HM Maze Prison in Northern Ireland, according to network officials. 

 Great Escapes With Morgan Freeman executive producer James Younger recently spoke to me from a production shoot in Athens, Greece about the series as well as the overall viewer appeal of prison escape-themed content. Younger also talks about future Revelations Entertainment projects as part of the interview, an edited version of which appears below.

Picture This: What makes this series unique from previous shows focused on prison escapes?

James Younger: It's pretty different because it's a very active and direct type of storytelling. We're actually putting the viewer inside the prisons by rebuilding them using CGI -- we have this fantastic game engine called Unreal Engine that’s used in first person shooter games. We’re using it to rebuild the cells, the ventilation shafts, tunnels and walls of the prisons. We’re putting the viewer into the prison and sort of gameifying the escape, and really seeing it from the point-of-view of the people who were digging or cutting their way out.

PT: What’s behind the continued viewer fascination with the genre?

JY: The stories are amazing. How do people dig out of concrete with a spoon as they did at Alcatraz or cut through a concrete ceiling as I believe they did at Elmira [Correctional Facility]? It seems like impossible obstacles to us, and yet it was done by people who have nothing but time on their side and a whole bunch of ingenuity. They may not always be the best people in the world, but they're certainly resourceful and smart, and know how to solve problems. So I think that's just fascinating and makes for great stories.

PT: Is there one particular episode from the series that really caught your interest and fascination?

JY: The one that I thought was most remarkable was El Chapo's escaping from a prison that was basically designed to be inescapable. In fact, he didn't actually escape it, but somebody broke in to get him out. The remarkable precision of his team of engineers and excavators who were able to somehow break through the security of the Mexican authorities to get the precise coordinates of where the shower pan in his cell was fascinating. The shower pan was the only part of his cell that was not visible by CCTV camera, which was being watched 24 hours a day by the federal Mexican agents. Yey they got this tunnel exactly under his shower, which was just incredible. They got within like six inches of where they needed it to be after digging for hundreds and hundreds of yards underground. So that to me is mind blowing.

PT: What does Morgan Freeman bring to the table?

JY: He’s famous for being in one of the great prison films in the Shawshank Redemption, so people recognize him as someone who might be able to get into the mind of a prisoner. He’s an amazing storyteller and he makes you feel like you are there. He doesn’t seem like just a host telling you the facts; he’s telling you the story from the point of view of the people trying to get out. His name automatically brings a broader audience, so it’s our job to make sure the story is well told and compelling. If we tell a story well and Morgan is reading it, then I think people are very likely to get hooked and to be drawn to it.

PT: What other projects can we expect to see from Revelations Entertainment?

JY: We’re looking at bringing to the marketplace a new breed of historical stories that we really bring to life through storytelling. There are other areas like manhunts, for example, where we’d love to explore. I think in general Morgan has an immense curiosity for history -- everything from military to civil war to civil rights -- so there's many parts of history that Morgan and our company can explore.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.