The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 12

Telling the Foreign
Service Story on Screen
spionage is described as the “all-
but-invisible profession that has
shaped history” by the 12-year-old
International Spy Museum in Washing-
ton, D.C.
Diplomacy, in contrast, is done in
public view and, most often, on the
record. But the U.S. Diplomacy Center
has only just broken ground, and, if
television viewing is any indication, the
American public has no idea what the
Foreign Service is all about.
A quick Wikipedia search for “espio-
nage television series” results in a list of
135 programs from 1965 to the pres-
ent. A search for television series about
“diplomacy” or “Foreign Service” turns
up programs in Canada, Australia and
Great Britain.
In 2002, the Fox network aired
“American Embassy,” a show about a
young vice consul at Embassy London,
canceling it after only four episodes. The
Foreign Service as a profession, it seems,
hasn’t captured the imagination of tele-
vision writers and producers.
That may be changing. A number of
television production studios are cur-
rently developing programs with Foreign
Service members as main characters.
Here’s a look at what’s in the various
stages of development:
Warner Brothers has recently “picked
up” (which means the studio liked the
pilot and will make it a series) a comedy
titled “Embassy,” and has hired writers
and producers for it. The show will fea-
ture “three unlikely American embassy
workers who must prevent an interna-
tional war after they inadvertently cause
a diplomatic crisis on the tiny South
Pacific Island where they’ve been sta-
tioned,” notes the
Hollywood Reporter
The AMC network has ordered the
pilot “White City.” John Dempsey, one of
the show’s creators, writers and co-exec-
utive producer, is the State Department’s
senior advisor to the U.S. Special Repre-
sentative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“White City” will concentrate on
Western diplomats and journalists living
and working in Afghanistan. The lead
character works for an independent
policy think-tank and has lived in Kabul
for nearly a decade.
In the pilot, against the advice of
American embassy staffers and others,
he tragically overreaches in an attempt
to talk with insurgent leaders; in the
series, he must find a new role in Kabul.
“I thought it’d be fun to show an
entertaining and quite colorful story
about expat life in Afghanistan during
the very surreal post-9/11 era,” Dempsey
tells the
Further along in the development
stage is “Stanistan,” a comedy/drama
from the USA Network. “Stanistan” fol-
lows the staff at the American com-
pound in the Middle Eastern country of
Stanistan, where State Department staff,
covert CIA officers and journalists strike,
as the
Hollywood Reporter
a “delicate balance of danger and silli-
The program is being produced by
Universal Cable Productions (a divi-
sion of NBC Universal). As of
press time, the roles of the State public
affairs officer and USAID infrastructure
manager have already been cast, as well
as the role of the foreign correspondent
(and romantic interest). The show began
filming at the end of September in New
Mexico. No air date has been released
CBS’s “Madam
Secretary,” star-
ring Tea Leoni as
the Secretary of
State, premiered
on Sept. 21.
Leoni’s character
is a former CIA
analyst who has
been appointed Secretary of State by her
former mentor at the agency, the current
President of the United States.
In an interview with
, cre-
ator-executive producer Barbara Hall
said the show will focus on the State
Department. “We really want to have
that pull-back-the-curtain effect with
this show, and show you how the State
Department actually works,” Hall said.
“There’s enough interesting stuff there
that people would be surprised to learn.”
Somewhat telling perhaps, no techni-
cal adviser is listed in the full credits on
IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) for
“Madam Secretary.”
A new PBS documentary is also cur-
rently being produced by the Foreign
CBS’s “Madam
Secretary,” starring
Téa Leoni as the
Secretary of State
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