Sep 18, 2012

Tradecraft: NBC Explores Serious Spying With M.I.C.E.

Fox isn't the only network scooping up spy scripts this pilot season. NBC's last major dalliance with primetime spies was the light and fluffy, escapist 80s throwback Undercovers. Now they seem keen to launch a much more serious espionage show, and they're following the Homeland playbook. Deadline reports that the network has made a deal with Peter Berg (The Kingdom) to write and direct a pilot based, like Homeland, on an Israeli format. The NBC show is called M.I.C.E., and I hope they decide to change that. When I saw the headline, I assumed it was going to be something along the lines of G-Force, featuring silly animal agents. But M.I.C.E. stands for "Money, Ideology, Coercion and Ego," motivations that lead spies to betray their countries. It's a fascinating concept, but a terrible title. Hopefully they'll realize that before it goes to series, and won't doom a potentially gripping spy series with a title bound to keep audiences from discovering it! The Israelis knew better; they're version was called The Gordin Cell. Here's how the trade blog describes that series:
Gordin Cell revolves around the Gordin family and centers on Israeli-born Eyal Gordin, a decorated Israeli Air Force officer in a high-security post who loves his country and family. His parents Michael and Diana, Grandmother Nina and elder sister Natalia emigrated from the USSR in 1990. Eyal has no idea that his parents were Russian spies. When Miki and Diana’s former handler appears one day, demanding that they recruit their son into espionage activity (watch the scene below with English subtitles), Eyal faces an impossible dilemma: his cooperation with Russian intelligence determines his family’s fate, while his dedication to Israel’s homeland security tests his family allegiance. His country, or his family… who will he choose to betray?
It sounds amazing to me, and evidently it did to Berg, too, who told Deadline that he was "instantly mesmerized" by it. "I thought it was really smart, widely  original, and it worked as a complex family drama and a very authentic, high-stakes espionage thriller.” So original that the feature director was inspired to write and direct his first TV pilot since the critically acclaimed Friday Night Lights. But while Berg left that show to Jason Katims to run (who recently sold his own spy pilot to Fox), the trade blog reports that "he plans to stick around [this time], spending the first season working in the writers room and being involved with production." Berg points out that Russian spies are still topical (as evidenced by that spy ring the FBI rounded up a few years ago), and I tend to agree. I'm very much looking forward to FX's upcoming 1980s-set Soviet spy drama The Americans, and I'm equally keen on seeing a suspenseful contemporary take on the subject. I just hope NBC can do right by a show like this, which sounds more naturally suited to cable. And I also hope they do something about that title!

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