The show may revolve around the Manhattan Project, whose scientists secretly built the first atom bombs used during World War II, but in developing its campaign for the series, debuting July 27, WGN America realized the subject may turn off potential viewers who might believe it’s a dull documentary.
In order to change any misconceptions, the network will air the half-hour special, “The Manhattan Project: Beyond the Bomb,” starting July 4, that introduces the suburban society of 1940s Los Alamos, N.M., featured in the show. (Watch an exclusive clip from the special above.)
While there have been a slew of other shows set during notable historical time periods (“Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” even WGN America’s own “Salem,” set during the 17th century witch trials) the challenge was to bring to life stories that had previously only been available in text books, while promoting the fact that the show isn’t meant to be strictly “a historical retelling of something that happened in American history,” said Brian Dollenmayer, executive VP of marketing and promotions, WGN America and Tribune Studios. “It’s not just World War II clips or tales. It’s a scripted drama that’s exciting, thrilling and dangerous.”
Produced two months ago by WGN America’s inhouse production team, the special features interviews with “Manhattan” creator, writer and executive producer Sam Shaw (“Masters of Sex”), series director and executive producer Thomas Schlamme (“The West Wing”), cast members, former residents of Los Alamos, historians and scientists. Show stars John Benjamin Hickey, Ashley Zukerman, Katja Herbers, Olivia Williams and Rachel Brosnahan.
Rather than produce the usual behind-the-scenes special, which WGN America had already done for “Salem,” “we wanted to do a behind the story special to introduce viewers to the world of ‘Manhattan,’” said Matt Cherniss, president and general manager, WGN America and Tribune Studios. “The more audiences get invested in this time period, this world-changing moment in history, the more we believe they will be excited about watching ‘Manhattan.’”
In addition to repeat airings on WGN America over the next three weeks leading up to its premiere, the “Manhattan” special will also air on Tribune stations across the country, stream on WGN America’s website and be promoted across social media platforms, as well as on the Huffington Post, Comcast and other promotional partners.
Series’ marketing campaign also includes extensive outdoor and mall-based efforts in major markets, with a central image depicting a giant bomb sticking out of the desert and casting a large shadow over the neighborhood of Los Alamos (see below).
“We felt it went hand in hand with the story they were telling,” Dollenmayer said of the special. “Audiences have so many options for entertainment now. We want to make sure we’re everywhere to build recognition for our series.”