One of the best shows you’re not watching is WGN America’s Manhattan. Created by Sam Shaw 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. Over the first 13 episode season, the show explored the costs of secrecy and isolation as a result of building the “gadget,” while also offering a fascinating look at the science involved in the design. I’m a huge fan of this show and was very happy to learn it’s getting a second season.
With the first season ending Sunday night, I recently sat down with creator Sam Shaw for an extended video interview. During our wide-ranging conversation he talked about how the show came together, his partnership with Tommy Schlamme (who directed the first two episodes), incorporating real figures into a world made up of fictitious characters, his long term plans for the show which include showing the repercussions of creating and using the bomb on the people that created it, the advantages of being picked up straight to series, the challenges of writing emotional, engaging stories, Easter eggs, teasing what he can for season 2, and so much more. If you’re a fan of WGN America’s Manhattan, you’ll love this interview. Hit the jump to watch. Finally, if you haven’t seen Manhattan yet, WGN America is airing the entire 13-episode first season this Sunday starting at 8:00 a.m. PST.
Note: This interview contain huge spoilers about Manhattan.
- 00:32 – Shaw talks about pitching the series to the network and re-breaking the season as the episodes progressed.
- 01:25 – Discusses the history associated with the show, deciding what they would tackle on the first season, and building character stories around the history. Briefly mentions future episodes.
- 03:20 – Speaks about incorporating real figures into a world made up of fictitious characters.
- 03:49 – Talks about the Manhattan Project, the flawed atom bomb that led the military to create a second design, and including those facts in the show.
- 04:34 – Explains which characters and what events in the show are made up.
- 04: 51 – Discusses the beginnings of Manhattan and the reasons for creating the show, the evolution of the show, and the challenges to get it on the air.
- 06:47 – Describes the process that took place after the show was pitched to the network.
- 07:12 – Talks about the advantages of being picked up straight to series and how that helped in the writers room when it came to developing the characters.
- 08:30 – Mentions building a world for the show, shooting locations, and constructing practical sets that aided in the texture and similitude of the story.
- 10:54 – Speaks about the death toll on the show in comparison to shows like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. Mentions formulaic shows and what viewers expect from them.
- 12:38 – Discusses the joys of being able to write for his cast and being picked up for a seconds season.
- 13:54 – Provides a small tease on the character of Frank Winter.
- 15:03 – Delves into the story about the bomb and the repercussions of its drop. Mentions an interest in wanting to explore what happens with the character after those events.
- 17:28 – Talks about the writing staff, the directors, and his desire to have them all come back for Season 2.
- 18:30 – Speaks about his partnership with Tommy Schlamme, their initial meeting for Manhattan, and starting the project.
- 21:33 – Briefly mentions international market deals.
- 22:30 – Discusses the projected production date for Season 2 and what that means for the writing process and storytelling.
- 25:19 – Explains the idea behind choosing to write a 13-episode season and the difficulties of having to write more episodes for a serialized show.
- 28:18 – Talks about the challenges of writing emotional, engaging stories. Mentions one storyline he was most pleased to see play out throughout the season.
- 30:04 – Speaks about his intentions when creating the show and figuring out how to tell a story that didn’t lend itself to many visuals. Makes a comparison to his previous work on Masters of Sex.
- 32:12 – Gives some teases for Season 2 and the “strange” progression of the story.
- 33:06 – Discusses Easter eggs and hidden clues in previous episodes that point to a reveal in the finale.