“Manhunt: Unabomber” might seem an incongruity in a schedule anchored with shows like “Naked and Afraid” and “Deadliest Catch.” But not to John Goldwyn, a producer who had worked with Mr. Ross on the Fox series “Gracepoint” and on another good fact-based series for Discovery, “Harley and the Davidsons.”
The network, he said, has always liked American history, and it has always liked aspirational stories in which a protagonist confronts a challenge, whether it’s the sea, the wilderness or a resistant law enforcement bureaucracy.
“In their success, they change the world in which they live,” Mr. Goldwyn said.
The series was created by Andrew Sodroski, whose most important previous achievement has been topping the 2013 Black List, a compilation of the most admired unproduced scripts floating around Hollywood. Mr. Sodroski turned out a story that found parallels between the Kaczynski and Fitzpatrick characters and that explored a disturbing period in Mr. Kaczynski’s college days when he was a participant in a psychological experiment conducted by the C.I.A. that may have affected his later behavior.
After establishing the hunt narrative, the series breaks away from it and devotes a full episode to this chapter in Mr. Kaczynski’s youth. It’s a brash decision, but Mr. Goldwyn said that he made sure Mr. Sodroski’s voice and vision would be preserved with the selection of a television veteran, Greg Yaitanes (whose credits include “Banshee,” a show that helped broaden Cinemax’s lineup), to direct all eight episodes and serve as showrunner.
“Greg has a famous reputation for protecting the voice of young writers,” he said. “And he understood that the idea was not to make Ted into a monster.”
Mr. Yaitanes said it would have been a mistake to offer a straightforward pursuit-and-capture chronicle, especially with such a well-documented case.
“If you’re trying to plot this in a way that is saving the reveal, I think that is ultimately disappointing,” he said. “That is a Google search away from spoiling it. It’s not as simple as catching someone. As amazing as that story was, it was only the beginning.”
Mr. Kaczynski is hardly made into a hero, but the series doesn’t flinch from examining what drove him to his murderous actions.
“It was important to examine the case from all angles and directions,” Mr. Yaitanes said. “You’re seeing the weaponizing of a civilian by the United States government.”
In a time when headlines are devoted to radicalized terrorists abroad and sometimes at home, that gives the series a fascinating present-day relevance. So does its inevitable revisiting of Mr. Kaczynski’s famous manifesto about the insidiousness of technology and its ability to take over our lives.
“It’s incredibly relevant to today,” noted Mr. Yaitanes, who said that he banned cellphones from the set to focus his crew’s attention on this very message. ‘This guy prophesied exactly where we’d be 20 years ago.”
The main departure from the real-life case is the show’s fictional meeting between the two main characters, a psychological stare-down centered on the desire to get a confession out of Mr. Kaczynski.
“We felt that we had this tremendous opportunity with these two actors,” Mr. Goldwyn said, referring to Mr. Worthington and Mr. Bettany. “The audience would feel cheated if we didn’t find opportunities for these two Goliaths to face off.”
It’s a delicious confrontation; disingenuous, perhaps, but no more so than countless other enhancements of reality employed in these types of dramatizations. Mr. Goldwyn said the fictional face-to-face does reflect a real fear of Mr. Fitzgerald and others that the warrant that got them into Mr. Kaczynski’s Montana cabin could be thrown out.
In any case, the real issue for Discovery is whether its core viewers, who made the much-maligned race between the swimmer Michael Phelps and a great white shark a ratings success — will climb aboard for this very different sort of fare.
Mr. Ross said his vision for remaking the channel isn’t to flush out the old content and replace it with a full slate of premium series. Instead the idea is to have enough ambitious offerings that the regular audience is periodically surprised and new viewers become intrigued.
It seems a reasonable bet — after all, just because you might enjoy shark shows doesn’t mean you want to watch only shark shows.
Mr. Bettany, for one, thinks people will find good TV no matter where it is.
“It’s like the Wild West with television,” he said, recalling a lunch with Kevin Spacey a few years ago where Mr. Spacey shocked him by saying not only that he intended to do a TV series, but also that the series — you’ve heard of it; “House of Cards” — was going to be on Netflix. “The paradigm is shifting all the time, and content is king.”
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