They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but Amazon’s new TV series The Man In The High Castle launched in a blaze of not-exactly-glory when its Nazi-themed ads were pulled from the New York subway last week.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called on Amazon to remove the train advertisements, calling them “irresponsible and offensive to World War II and Holocaust survivors, their families, and countless other New Yorkers.”
But the show’s creator Frank Spotnitz isn’t all that bothered. He has long been aware that tackling a storyline where the Nazis emerge victorious from World War II was always going to ruffle feathers.
“It’s a risky show to do and it’s potentially extremely offensive, so I could see why people would be cautious about it,” Spotnitz tells Loaded.
The series, set in 1962, stars Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans and Luke Kleintank. It’s easy to see why TV bosses were cautious, as Spotnitz spent months writing scripts that depict Hitler and his fellow Nazis in a not-altogether-evil light.
“You have to be very careful, very sensitive and the other thing that I am doing that is a bit risky is trying to humanise the bad guys,” he says.
“I didn’t want to diminish the evil of their bad crimes but I did want to show that there are real people who do these things and that is also something that could be misinterpreted. That’s what comes across from the novel – how do you maintain your humanity if you are living in an unjust society and how do you respond?”
A string of networks rejected Spotnitz’s original script adaptations of the novel by leading sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. The book depicts an alternative version of history, in which the Axis powers emerge victorious in World War II, dividing the US into Nazi-controlled East and a Japan-run West.
“When I wrote it originally it was for the Sci-Fi Network in the US,” reveals Spotnitz, executive producer of The Man In The High Castle with Alien and Bladerunner director Ridley Scott. “They passed and it was another two years trying to get it made.
“It was essentially a dead project. They were about to lose the rights to the book when an executive who had just joined Amazon called me and said ‘Do you have anything great that hasn’t been made?’ and I said ‘Yes, as a matter of fact I do, The Man In The High Castle’ and that’s how it happened. If it weren’t for that phone call, it would never have happened.”
Amazon executives are feeling smug at the decision as the series, which piloted earlier this year, is their most-watched since they began making original drama. All 10 parts were released simultaneously on Amazon Prime last month.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” Spotnitz admits. “I’m hoping it will fly and not crash. So far so good.”
Former X Files director Spotnitz is a lifelong fan of the original novel, but admits turning it into a TV show was tricky. He reveals: “When I agreed to adapt it, I read it again for the first time since I was out of college and realised that it was going to be a pretty challenging adaptation. As wonderful as the book is, it didn’t really have a narrative that lent itself to television so I did a whole lot of head scratching.”
When his script was originally rejected by the Sci-Fi Network, did Spotnitz not lose heart?
“I did a little,” he sighs. “In terms of my script, they didn’t say why they didn’t make it but I can imagine that firstly, it’s a very expensive show to do and I can see how that would have discouraged a lot of broadcasters. Also, in terms of the story, I can see why you would want to be cautious about tackling it.”
“You have to be very careful, very sensitive and the other thing that I am doing that is a bit risky is trying to humanise the bad guys”
Spotnitz is convinced that had the outcome been as is portrayed in The Man in the High Castle, a vast majority of people in society would have just accepted things and got on with their lives. And he reckons that victory for the Nazis is not an idea that is all that far fetched. He believes this is why the series gets people hot under the collar.
He explains: “I think the idea is frightfully plausible, which is why it’s so unsettling to people who watch the show and think ‘That could be the way things could have been.’
“I think that’s the scariest thing for people, that things are not pre-determined. Randomness is sort-of the thing that we all fear most. We all like to think that if we lived in a fascist society that we would be standing up for all rights but the truth is that the vast majority of us wouldn’t. We would keep our heads down.”
The first season of The Man in the High Castle is available in its entirety on Amazon Prime Video.
Loaded’s entertainment editor Jennifer O’Brien is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about popular culture as a national newspaper columnist and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_OBrien1