The studio was an early producer for Showtime with Weeds, AMC with Mad Men and Netflix with Orange is the New Black, and as managing director, international, Peter Iacono notes, it has been “at the forefront of creating drama for new networks and those looking to have their voice heard”.
Manhattan represents US basic cable channel WGN America’s second scripted series, and Lionsgate hopes it will be a network-defining effort in the same way Weeds, Mad Men and OITNB have been for their respective platforms.
The 13-part show follows the New Mexico scientists who raced to create the atom bomb during the Second World War. Iacono says a central theme is the “moral imperative” these people felt to create the devastating weapon, to save lives. The bomb eventually dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
“There is this over-arching theme of a deadline looming – the characters feel like there’s a ticking clock above them,” he adds.
Set in what creator Sam Shaw and executive producer Thomas Schlamme define as the US’s first suburb, Los Alamos, it is just as much about the murky relationships of the town’s families and neighbours as it is the dread of war, Iacono says.
Besides those pushing through their part of the bomb’s creation, few know or are at liberty to discuss their work. “It’s the quintessential American suburban setting, but built on secrets and lies,” he adds.
Having Shaw, an emerging writer best known for work on Showtime’s Masters of Sex, working with former The West Wing showrunner Schlamme has given the show “a wonderful dynamic that comes across on screen”, Iacono adds.
Deals have already been concluded in China, with European and Latin American interest understood to be strong. In the US, Hulu has acquired first-look streaming VOD rights and is launching episodes a day after their Sunday bow on WGN America. Hulu is offering the most-recent five episodes free on its basic service after a three-day delay, while new eps come through Hulu Plus.
Manhattan’s first episode on July 27 took a total audience (including Live +3 numbers) of 2.2 million, and initially critical reaction has been broadly positive.
Channels seeking good alternatives to Mad Men, which ends after its upcoming seventh season, should pay a trip to Lionsgate’s Rivieria Beach stand, Iacono says.
The show: Manhattan
The producers: Lionsgate Television, Skydance TV, Tribune Studios
The distributor: Lionsgate
The broadcasters: WGN America, Hulu (US)
The concept: American scientists race to create the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II