It was one of America’s most clandestine scientific missions, but the secrecy that infiltrated every aspect of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos is about to explode onto network television.
Manhattan, WGN America’s new dramatic cable television series from Showtime’s Master of Sex writer Sam Shaw and West Wing director Thomas Schlamme, is set to debut in July, but pre-production on 13 one-hour episodes starring John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C, The Good Wife), Christopher Denham (Argo, Shutter Island) and Rachel Brosnahan (Beautiful Creatures, The Unborn) is already underway in Santa Fe, Rio Rancho and Los Alamos.
Shaw’s scripts, which are produced by Skydance Television, Tribune Studios and Lionsgate Television, will follow the brilliant but flawed scientists who raced to build the world’s first atomic bomb.
The program will be centered on Hickey’s character Frank Winter, described by movie website IMDb as “a brilliant and self-destructive physics professor.” He has been tapped to lead the US Army Corps of Engineers project, but has put his family in jeopardy and his sanity at risk.
WGN’s show has tourism executives excited that the series will produce the same positive recognition for Los Alamos that A&E’s Breaking Bad created for Albuquerque.
“We are hopeful that these types of projects will create awareness and appreciation for Los Alamos’ rich history and enhance tourism to our community,” says Los Alamos Film Liaison Kelly Stewart.
She’s been working closely with location manager Sam Tischler to give production crews access to the town’s historic locations, including Bathtub Row and Fuller Lodge.
But most of the sets, including replica housing and Quonset-style huts, Stewart says, will be built in Santa Fe and Rio Rancho because only a few structures from the 1940s remain standing in Los Alamos.
Katy Korkos, who directs the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce, is confident viewers will be intrigued and want to visit the city to see the town’s history up close.
“We’ve got a great little business community here that is ready to cater to visitors’ every need,” says Korkos.
It’s not the first time Los Alamos has hosted television and film crews. In 2011, Haywire director Steven Soderbergh’s crews spent nearly 10 days in town and dropped up to $350,000 at area hotels, restaurants and other businesses. A year later, Jerry Bruckheimer shot scenes around town with Johnny Depp for Disney’s big-budget The Lone Ranger.
Stewart says the town’s mountain setting can easily be used to duplicate scenery in Wyoming, upstate New York, Connecticut and Northern California, and has been used for scenes in Let Me In, Brothers, Did You Hear About the Morgans? and Tiger Eyes. Both the Discovery and History channels have produced documentaries in town. With a period set now available, Stewart expects even more productions to shoot in the area and take advantage of the state’s film incentives.
While the real Manhattan project employed close to 130,000 people and operated under a $2 billion dollar budget, it’s unclear how many locals will be employed for Manhattan.