"Turn," which premieres on Sunday, tells the story of four
childhood friends who find themselves pulled together as spies
during the height of the American Revolutionary War in 1778 in
New York's Long Island, under the orders of General Washington.
The series is based on Alexander Rose's 2007 book "Washington's
Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring."
The Culper Ring was formed by Major Benjamin Tallmadge, who
chose an unsuspecting group of his friends, civilians who
opposed the British occupation of New York — farmer Abe
Woodhull, pub landlady Anna Strong and fisherman Caleb Brewster.
Abe, played by British actor Jamie Bell, is the symbol of the
"everyman," reluctantly drawn into the Culper Ring because he is
forced to stand by his beliefs and try and change the country
for the sake of his baby son's future.
"He's not a hero. He's not a spy. He's a farmer, a failed
farmer, and he's a family man. He wants the war to disappear. He
doesn't want to be one of these people who wants to step up,"
Bell said of his character.
"Even though they are muted in the show, his politics are that a
man should be in his own country and make decisions for
The premiere sets up the circumstances in which the four friends
are brought together, and highlights the underlying tensions and
connections between them.
While the series is based on true events, not much is known
about the real lives of some of these characters, some of whom
were uncovered only through their correspondence with
Washington, who kept the letters instead of burning them.
"We had to take a bit of liberty because there was nothing known
about him. We knew he was a farmer and we knew he was terrified,
but that's all we knew," Bell said of Abe.
'SPYING IN AMERICA'S DNA'
After gritty drug drama "Breaking Bad" concluded last year with
10.3 million viewers tuning into the explosive finale, and "Mad
Men" entering its final season, cable channel AMC is hoping to
continue drawing audiences with period drama "Turn."
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Craig Silverstein, executive producer of the series, said he
believes AMC Networks Inc found a programming "commonality" with
"Before 'Breaking Bad,' there wasn't a show like that, and
there really wasn't anything like 'Mad Men,' and there wasn't
anything on TV like the 'Walking Dead,'" Silverstein said.
"There's nothing on TV like 'Turn.' So that's what I believe they
(AMC) saw. They make their success by taking risks."
The occupation of spying has become glamorized by the likes of the
suave James Bond films, Tom Cruise's "Mission Impossible" franchise,
Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Identity" films and Kiefer Sutherland's
agent Jack Bauer in Fox's television series "24," resurrected for a
new series this year.
But "Turn" goes back to a time when state-of-the-art tradecraft
consisted of invisible ink, laundry on washing lines, and dead
letter boxes. The true story of the primitive efforts of an
underground group of operatives is what both Bell and Silverstein
think will surprise audiences.
"What this show gives you is that insight; it's as close as we could
get to what it would have been like. The show isn't so much a
history lesson as it is a glimpse into a different era and time,"
"The history of American espionage and spying is such a crucial
asset to this country, and this is George Washington trying to
figure out how to do it."
With espionage very much in the headlines these days — with U.S.
soldier Chelsea Manning convicted of violating the Espionage Act and
former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden charged
for leaking classified documents to the public — "Turn" resonates in
the current debate over spying.
"It definitely shows that this is nothing new, that spying is in
America's DNA," Silverstein said.
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)
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