The history of the Culper Spy Ring is nothing new to Setauket and North Shore of Long Island residents. This Sunday, April 6, thanks to the new AMC show “Turn,” Setauket and some of its most legendary residents will become household names throughout the country.
Based on Alexander Rose’s 2006 book, “Washington’s Spies,” the show stars Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull, the Setauket farmer turned spy for Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Enlisted in 1778 by Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich), Woodhull along with Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) and Anna Strong (Heather Lind), among others, worked together to send messages — often in code — about the British troops to Washington.
In a telephone interview, show runner and executive producer, Craig Silverstein — responsible for The CW Television Network series, “Nikita” — said he had heard about the Culper ring before, but didn’t know exactly what they had done until fellow executive producer, Barry Josephson, introduced him to Rose’s book in 2008 while they were working together on Fox’s “Bones.” He thought it would make a great show. “They were very good at what they did,” Silverstein said of the spy ring.
Silverstein, who admitted to not being much of a history buff prior to working on the show, described the show as “a spy thriller,” with a great international cast. He said one of the most surprising things to learn about was how intimately connected the characters were to George Washington.
“There weren’t a ton of layers,” Silverstein said. “[That] brought him more down to earth.”
Interestingly enough, Bev Tyler, the historian for the Three Village Historical Society who runs the SPIES! exhibit at the society’s headquarters, agreed often times films and shows based on the American Revolution make Washington the opposite of what Silverstein described. “They can’t do it without deifying him, without making him larger than life,” Tyler said.
Silverstein said he found it interesting how few American Revolution-based films and television shows exist. He said much of what is out there is “very ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’” referring to children’s-type programming. “The real truth is much more complicated,” he added.
While maintaining historical accuracy was important, Silverstein said writers could take some creative license because a lot of what the spies did is still unknown.
However, in an effort to get the facts right, Rose is working as a consultant on the show. Silverstein said some the crew visited Setauket; Tyler, who said he would definitely be watching on Sunday, took one of the show’s writers on a society walking tour.
Silverstein said he thinks everyone, even those who aren’t history buffs, will enjoy the series as it is an exciting depiction of the American Revolution. “It’s only a world that you thought you knew,” he said.
“Turn” premiers with a special 90-minute episode on Sunday on AMC Networks, Optimum channel 43, at 9 pm.