Sam Shaw and Thomas Schlamme Talk MANHATTAN, Serializing the Story, Balancing History and Fiction, & Prioritizing Emotional Honesty over Historical Accuracy

     July 30, 2014

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What happens if you round up the nation’s most brilliant scientific minds, seclude them in a makeshift city in the middle of the desert, and drown their lives in secrecy?  These are the questions addressed in Manhattan, the new historical drama from creator Sam Shaw (Masters of Sex) and director Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing).  Manhattan offers a semi-fictionalized version of the infamous Manhattan Project – the clandestine research and development project that resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb.  While the events of the show are based on history, Manhattan largely steers clear of iconic figures like J.  Robert Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves, and focuses instead on the interpersonal drama between fictitious characters as they contend with the costs of secrecy and isolation.  Manhattan stars John Benjamin Hickey, Olivia Williams, Daniel Stern, Rachel Brosnahan, Ashley Zukerman, Harry Lloyd, Michael Chernus, Christopher Denham, Katja Herbers, Alexia Fast, and Eddie Shin.

I recently visited the set in Santa Fe, New Mexico where the labs, homes, and barracks of Los Alamos have been recreated from the ground up.  While I was there I had the chance to sit down with Sam Shaw and Thomas Schlamme for a video interview.  They talked about why the Manhattan Project was the perfect story for a serialized TV drama, balancing the line between history and fiction, and why their putting a priority on emotional honesty over historical accuracy.  Hit the jump to watch.

Sam Shaw and Thomas Schlamme:

  • Talk about why the Manhattan Project was perfect for a TV series.
  • Talk about how they’ve been developing the project for years.
  • How do they balance the line between history and fiction?
  • Talk about putting a priority on the emotional truth over historical accuracy.

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Here’s the official synopsis for Manhattan:

Fueled by mystery and suspense, “Manhattan” is set in the 1940s in a town whose very existence is classified. Frank Winter and his team of brilliant but flawed scientists have been recruited to work on a project even they could know nothing about until their arrival.  Once inside “The Hill,” a middle-class bubble on a dusty foothill in the New Mexico desert, they begin to sense that this is no ordinary assignment.  In fact, they are living in a town with the world’s highest concentration of geniuses, yet it can’t be found on any map—a place where men and women are torn between duty and their moral values, husbands and wives conceal the truth from each other and their families, the military keeps secrets from the scientists they chaperone, and the scientists keep secrets from each other.  “Manhattan” depicts the wonder, danger and deceit that shadowed the first “nuclear” families.

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