The Watchman : ‘One Dollar’ Bucks TV Trend, Jack Ryan Gets Amazon Update

Senior content producer Michael Malone’s weekly look at the programming scene
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One Dollar debuts on CBS All Access Aug. 30. It’s a thriller set in the Rust Belt, the story told as a dollar bill changes hands among a connected group of characters.

Executive producer Craig Zobel said Pittsburgh, with its mix of steel and high-tech, made for an ideal setting. He liked being “able to do something entertaining — a murder-mystery — and paint a portrait of a community at the same time.”

The producers were keen to do a show that wasn’t set in New York or California. Zobel was also excited to depict class divides in the small town. “Class isn’t a subject that is explored much in television right now,” he said. “The idea of having an entertainment-based thing, that’s fun and a bit pulpy, and look at the issue of class, is a real inspiration.”

Zobel directed all 10 episodes. Being immersed in the show for so long enabled him to delve deeply into characters’ back stories. “It was an exciting and interesting experience,” he said, “to get to live with them for so long.”

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan premieres Aug. 31 on Amazon’s Prime Video, offering a unique take on Clancy’s brainy hero. Created by Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, the series shows Ryan facing down crises that are more relevant to the world in 2018. Amazon’s Ryan leaps straight off the pages of Clancy’s novels, but the stories are completely original to the series.

Roland said the project started with an attempt to adapt Clear and Present Danger, the 1989 book that shows Ryan’s CIA colleagues conducting a covert war against a Colombian drug cartel. Roland refers to Clancy’s books as “geopolitical thrillers of their time.” But Clear and Present Danger, he said, didn’t necessarily feel all that fresh three decades after it published.

The series yanks Ryan from his Langley cubicle and thrusts him into a conflagration in the Middle East. “Everything that happens narratively is something that Graham and I invented,” said Cuse.

Roland, a former Marine, said their goal was to keep the essence of Jack Ryan intact while updating his battles. “What are the secret ingredients, the secret sauce, that make Jack Ryan special?” he said.

Cuse notes how the stars of anti-terrorism shows, such as 24 and Homeland, are anti-heroes who bend the rules to pull off their missions. “Our guy is a classic hero,” he said.

John Krasinski, formerly Jim Halpert of The Office, plays Ryan. He’s an executive producer as well. “John is always interested in making any scene better,” Cuse said.

Cuse and Roland hope that viewers in red and blue states alike embrace Jack Ryan. “It’s not a show made for TV critics,” Cuse said. “It’s made for viewers.”

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