When “Manhunt: Deadly Games” premieres next month — dramatizing the investigation into the 1996 Olympic Park bombing as a 10-episode limited series — Clint Eastwood’s “Richard Jewell” will barely be in the rearview, but the producers are surely hoping the reception to their show won’t be as contentious.
Eastwood’s film, which tackled the same events as the Spectrum anthology, came under heavy criticism for its portrayal of former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs, the real-life journalist who reported on the investigation for the paper. In the film, Scruggs is seen trading sex with an FBI agent in exchange for a tip on a story, a portrayal that inspired the AJC to pen a letter calling for a boycott of the film and accusing the filmmakers of “malicious fabrications.”
“That movie had 110 minutes to tell the story, and we had eight hours,” creator and executive producer Andrew Sodroski said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday. “Instead of giving you one or two scenes with Kathy, we get under her skin. We portray her as a fully well-rounded character.”
Carla Gugino takes on the role of Scruggs in the film, following in the footsteps of “Richard Jewell” star Olivia Wilde. She’s part of an ensemble cast which also includes Jack Huston, Cameron Britton, Judith Light, Gethin Anthony and Kelly Jenrette.
“She’s flawed and really complex and really interesting,” Sodroski said. “I feel like we were struggling throughout to give more and more time to her story to really help you understand her world and the toll that these events took on her life.”
“Without enough time to spend with her character, she becomes a culprit,” added director and executive producer Michael Dinner. “And I think we spend more time with her, and I think we understand why she was trying to make it in her world. I think she’s a pretty three-dimensional character.”
Wilde has defended her portrayal of Scruggs in Eastwood’s movie by saying that she had no say in “how the film was ultimately crafted,” but did have any reason to believe Scruggs did trade sex for tips during her career. Scruggs died in 2001.
“The perspective of the fictional dramatization of the story, as I understood it, was that Kathy, and the FBI agent who leaked false information to her, were in a pre-existing romantic relationship, not a transactional exchange of sex for information,” Wilde said at the time.
“All the characters got caught up in the frenzy that kind of emanated from this event,” Dinner said of Scruggs and the investigators who wrongly and publicly accused security guard Richard Jewell of orchestrating the bombing. “It’s a story about heroes and victims in a way.”
“It’s really an interesting problem because even though the story happened 20 years ago, we’re still dealing with them in the headlines,” Sodroski said. “The story really is a story about fake news … a psychopathic narcissist who takes advantage of our division for his own gain. That’s the world we’re living in right now.”
“Manhunt: Deadly Games” premieres Feb. 3 on Spectrum’s On Demand platform.