Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety‘s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright, and Dan Futterman, the executive producers of Hulu’s new 9/11 drama, “The Looming Tower.”
The series is based on Wright’s bestseller, and he says he had “a lot of overtures” over the years to adapt it. “But I just didn’t feel trusting that the story wouldn’t be cheapened in some fashion, commercialized,” he says. “At the time television hadn’t become what it is now.”
But with the evolution of the small screen, he changed his mind. He also wanted to be able to speak to a new generation — “people who had grown up in the post-9/11 world, who maybe didn’t understand why we’re living in the country we’re living now,” he says.
Gibney, who had worked with Wright on “Going Clear,” signed on to help adapt it, and together they brought it to Hulu, which eventually won them over by promising to give them “the money, the freedom, and the backing” they were demanding.
Although history tells us how the story ends, the filmmakers were confident they could find the suspense in the storytelling, comparing it to the movie “Titanic.” “We all know what happened to the Titanic, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting to see what leads up to it,” says Gibney. “I don’t think we really know that story.”
The story centers on John O’Neill (played by Jeff Daniels in the series), the FBI counterterrorism chief who died in the 9/11 attacks, when he was working as head of security for the World Trade Center. “This was the man who was supposed to get Bin Laden, but Bin Laden got him,” says Wright.
Dan Futterman was brought on board as showrunner to turn Wright’s book into a dramatic series. “I was excited about the prospect of doing that — in particular, the prospect of delving into the character of Ali Soufan,” says Futterman of the Muslim-American FBI agent who worked alongside O’Neill. “He’s a patriot, deeply loves America, and is also trying to rescue his religion from people who are hijacking it.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast here: