WGN America's critically acclaimed drama Manhattan, about the birth of the atomic bomb, presumably ends its freshman season this Sunday with at least a metaphorical bang. The show, which just landed a second season order, hails from executive producer Sam Shaw, who's become a bit of an expert when it comes to period pieces.
Before heading to 1943 Los Alamos, N.M., Shaw was a writer on Showtime's 1960s-set Masters of Sex. On Manhattan, he focuses on the scientists who helped build that first atomic bomb, and the families who had to endure their secrets. John Benjamin Hickey, Olivia Williams, Daniel Stern and Ashley Zukerman are among the series' stars. Shaw filled out our TV Guide Magazine showrunner survey to explain why Manhattan is the bomb.
TV Guide Magazine: I've got room in my life to watch just one more show. Why should it be yours?
Sam Shaw: The Manhattan Project, which serves as the backdrop for our story, produced more than an atomic bomb. Los Alamos was the first modern planned community, a template for the suburban explosion of the 1950s. The America we all live in was born there. So, in a sense, you have that extra hour of TV viewing because of the bomb.
TV Guide Magazine: Who should be watching?
Shaw: You, dear reader. No, seriously. Please watch our show. We really love it. You will too.
TV Guide Magazine: What happens if we don't watch?
Shaw: You'll never find out how World War II ended. But in all seriousness, Manhattan isn't just the story of the end of war, it's the story of the beginning of an era. Ours. You won't want to miss it.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the best thing anyone has said or written about your show?
Shaw: TV's Wil Wheaton (whom I've admired from afar for 20 odd years) tweeted that Manhattan was the best pilot script he'd ever read.
TV Guide Magazine: What's the worst thing?
Shaw: An unnamed network executive who passed on our show told us "It's too smart for our viewers." I'm glad WGN America has more faith in theirs.
TV Guide Magazine: Who was right?
Shaw: When in doubt, the answer is always Ensign Wesley Crusher.
TV Guide Magazine: What's an alternate title for your show?
Shaw: Sex, Lies, and Nuclear Fission? Apocalypse Then? CSI: Mensa?
TV Guide Magazine: Give us an equation for your show.
Shaw: Mad Men plus Dr. Strangelove to the power of Twin Peaks minus a dancing dwarf plus plutonium divided by the half-life of Mandy Patinkin's beard on Homeland.
TV Guide Magazine: Come up with a premise for the spin-off.
Shaw: Having beaten Werner Heisenberg to the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer retires to nearby Albuquerque, where he beats a local drug kingpin — also named Heisenberg — at the crystal meth game.
TV Guide Magazine: What credit of yours would you like to forget?
Shaw: Voice of a talking orangutan in a Hi-C fruit drink commercial, circa 1991.
TV Guide Magazine: Tell me one thing about your cast.
Shaw: They've been known to take tango lessons together in Santa Fe.
TV Guide Magazine: What other series would you most like to be an executive producer on?
Shaw: To take this dream job, bringing Manhattan to life, I had to leave another dream job, writing for Masters of Sex. If our show disappeared into the ether tomorrow (and I hope it won't) I'd beg Masters' brilliant showrunner Michelle Ashford to take me back.
TV Guide Magazine: Let's scare the network. Tell us an idea that didn't make it on to the screen.
Shaw: We go full-blown Wizard of Oz: the series is black and white until the world's first atomic blast. Then searing Technicolor. And flying monkeys.
TV Guide Magazine: Finish this sentence: "If you like _______, you'll love our show."
Shaw: Mom and apple pie.
TV Guide Magazine: Pick another show and start a fake feud.
Shaw: The Big Bang Theory (with whom we share a scientific consultant). Our physicists are tougher than their physicists.
TV Guide Magazine: With what show would you like to do a crossover episode?
Shaw: Gilligan's Island. Watch what happens when a three-hour tour washes up on Bikini Atoll just in time for the A-bomb tests.
TV Guide Magazine: How will your show change the face of TV as we know it?
Shaw: It'll teach millions of discriminating viewers where to find WGN America on their cable lineup.
The season finale of Manhattan airs Sunday, Oct. 19 at 10/9c on WGN America.