Showtime’s ‘The Affair’ Aims to ‘Create Art on Television,’ Says Exec Producer Sarah Treem

The Affair Joshua Jackson Sarah Treem
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

On the same day Showtime announced it would be bringing “Twin Peaks” back in 2016, the network sponsored a glitzy Montauk-in-Manhattan premiere for its contemplative new drama “The Affair,” premiering the first episode Monday in a New York ballroom decked out with wicker chairs.Starring Brits Dominic West and Ruth Wilson as a pair of clandestine lovers — he’s a Brooklyn-based public school teacher named Noah, she’s a blue-collar waitress named Allison — the show’s recipe includes a unique he-said/she-said structure, with every episode split in half, telling its story from each of their incongruous memories. (Introducing the episode, Showtime president David Nevins described it as “a really sticky story.”)

“We’re trying, hard, to create art on television,” said co-creator Sarah Treem. “We’re not trying to make the shows difficult, or more complex than usual, but we are trying to use television as a medium that could, perhaps, engender an art form. That’s the objective.”

Treem laughed: “There were definitely people who told us the two-perspective approach was gonna be a problem — but it wasn’t Showtime! They liked it from the get-go.”

Review: TV Review: ‘The Affair’

Joshua Jackson, who stars as Wilson’s hairtrigger-tempered husband, claimed the script opened up a lot of different possibilities from first reading.

“When I first read it from Allison’s perspective, she was telling something I had seen before from Noah’s side, and my immediate reaction was: she’s lying. And that’s when I realized how good the conceit was, because that’s the sort of reaction we’re trying to provoke from the audience.”

“There’s no objective truth,” he said. “And you know what? If you’re gonna cuckold somebody, don’t tell ’em. That’s my takeaway from working on ‘The Affair.’”

“We were trying very hard to make sure that all the characters had our sympathy, but we didn’t wanna whitewash anybody,” Treem said. “But it wasn’t hard — we were just writing about people. People are complicated, they’re generous and flawed. But I do think once the actors came along, they did influence their characters. At a certain point, I began to understand the humanity of the actor I was writing for.”

“ER” veteran Maura Tierney stars as Noah’s wife, and she talked about a freer way of working together as an ensemble. “It turned into a collaborative effort the more the season went on, the more the actors got involved. Any great writer or showrunner, I think, and I’ve worked with great ones, they write for the actors they’re working for. When actors’ strengths emerge, the stories shift, and I think that happened. If a line didn’t feel right, there was not a lot of uptightness about changing it.”

Tierney also noted the ambiance of Montauk, and the importance of shooting on location: “It’s a moody place; the light there is diffused, and it’s not built up like the rest of the Hamptons, so it makes you feel like something like an affair could happen. It’s sexy. So, that was fun for me — I only had to shoot three days out of five!”

Treem corroborated: “I spent a lot of time there as a kid; I knew it was a very specific place that couldn’t be replicated on a soundstage anywhere.”

After the screening, guests including Anna Wintour, designer Jason Wu, Diane Kruger and West’s “The Wire” pals Sonja Sohn and Michael K. Williams joined the cast and crew for a party at Pier 81’s North River Lobster Company.

(Pictured: Joshua Jackson and Sarah Treem at “The Affair” party)

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