How Can 'Homeland' Adjust to Libyan Embassy Riots?
Executive producer Alex Gansa discusses how developing events in the Middle East could impact the terrorism-themed Showtime drama.
Thanks to long production lead times, the blessing of buzzy, newsy relevancy can also be a scripted TV show's worst enemy. Beyond the obvious patiotic concerns, the protests and terrorist attack in Egypt and Libya that claimed the life of a beloved US Ambassador on Tuesday could cause the minds behind Showtime's Golden Globe-winning drama Homeland some serious headaches, especially if the situation worsens.
But there may not be much they can do.
The first episode of the season, set to air September 30, depicts a massive protest outside a US embassy in Beirut, after Israel launches an airstrike on Iran's nuclear plants. While that has little to do with this week's attacks -- which are, in part, suspected to have been planned strikes by Al Qaeda -- the show also deals with terrorist cells and the larger security situation in the region, which has now most certainly shifted. On Thursday, executive producer Alex Gansa told The Hollywood Reporter that his show wouldn't be rewritten to reflect current events.
"We’re sort so far along down our own particular narrative that I don’t believe any events that are happening currently in the Middle East are going to influence how we’re going to finish the story this season," he told THR. "The one thing I would say is Ambassador Stevens' death, and the other Americans that died in Libya, it makes us aware that as we’re telling the stories, to try to be conscientious about portraying the real danger that intelligence officers, foreign services officers serving abroad, face on a daily basis."
The yin and yang of the show are an ex-POW (and now congressman, played by Damian Lewis) who has secretly been turned into an agent for an Osama bin Laden-like figure, and a bipolar CIA agent (Claire Danes) who throws herself into each and every situation, no matter how dangerous.
"I don’t know if you read Secretary of State Clinton’s comments about Christopher Stevens' life," Gansa continued, "but it’s just devastating. I mean this is a guy who actually helped liberate the city he was killed in, and it’s tragic."
One other factor in the stay-the-course route: at least seven episdoes from this season are already in the can.
Incidentally, the protest staged for the show, which were filmed in Israel, almost caused its own international incident.
"I can tell you that we staged a demonstration outside a US embassy," Gansa told THR, at the show's premiere last week, "in which a lot of Arab folks were outside the embassy, and they were protesting against a supposedly Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. And a passerby, who happened to be an ex-Israeli Army, thought it was a real protest, and he punched out one of the extras."
Luckily, it was all sorted out. And even though now, a number of embassies have been attacked, the producers don't plan on changing anything.
"It’s much more peaceful than the ones that happened in Cairo or Libya or Yemen," he pointed out. "I don’t think we’re exploiting those -- they were clearly written long before they happened, and I don’t think these [embassy attacks] are a new thing."
But one question that has always lived with the show is how they can fairly depict an entire region and religion that has been so maligned in America. Gansa, who also worked on the (sometimes criticized) terrorism-focused, post-9/11 series 24, acknowledged that they toe a tripwire -- which was only accentuated by the sub-amateur anti-Islam "film" that sparked this week's protests.
"We were very, very cognizant about portraying the religion Islam in a verisimilar way, in a way that was true to what the religion is," he said Friday. "But we were asking questions. We wanted the audience to ask the question, Brody is a Muslim; does that mean he’s a terrorist? That’s what we were playing with, those grey areas."
After the attacks, Gansa added that empathy with the characters is what keeps his show from being an indictment on any one person or group.
"We really try, we just bend over backwards on Homeland, to try to give all our characters understandable motivations," he explained. "It’s not something you have to agree with, we’re not apologizing for anybody, but all of our characters come to their believes in an honest way. We don’t make any comments as to whether we think they’re misguided."
At the very least, the real world just got a lot more grey, and Homeland, a lot more real.
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin