Alexander Rose, whose book Washington Spies is the basis for AMC‘s new drama series Turn, said he wrote the book while mulling a different book and discovered little had been written about the spying efforts of George Washington. At the Library of Congress, he said, he discovered a “vast untapped reservoir of intelligence history that had been ignored over the last couple hundred years because, it’s face it, it’s a bit seamy, a bit underhanded.” That treasure trove included Washington’s extensive correspondence with the Culper Ring” who are the focus of the TV series. (Among the correspondence was an exchange between the ringleader Washington over expenses). “At that point I said okay this is what it’s going to be,” Rose told TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2014.
Set in the summer of 1778, Turn centers on farmer Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) who bands together with a group of childhood friends to form The Culper Ring, an unlikely group of spies who turn the tide in America’s fight for independence. It was written by Craig Silverstein, who exec produces with Barry Josephson.
Rose said he was attracted to the “unseen or hidden side of Washington…that’s been obscured in the last two hundred years in order to maintain some presidential dignity…He loved to spy and he was really good at it.”
Asked how the “finite story” of the real-life spy ring could sustain a long-running series , exec producer Craig Silverstein reminded TV critics there was “about eight years of the war, and the Culper Ring was certainly active after the war.” While Benedict Arnold “is still the highest ranked mole in espionage history…these were childhood friends and that’s the reason they were successful — because they knew each other.”