The Unabomber was a mysterious domestic terrorist who operated for nearly 20 years, sending crude homemade bombs to various airlines and universities that killed three people and injured more than 20. After getting his sprawling manifesto about the evils of modern technology published in several newspapers, the Unabomber was caught in 1995 and exposed as Theodore "Ted" Kaczynski, a Harvard graduate who later worked as a professor.
The Unabomber affair has been largely forgotten in the ensuing two decades with pop culture mostly ignoring it — save for a particularly memorable Saturday Night Live sketch with Will Ferrell as Kaczynski at his Harvard reunion. But with the success of FX’s American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson setting off a frenzy of TV projects related to true crime from the 1990s, it was perhaps inevitable that the Unabomber would have his turn. And now, he will.
The Discovery Channel earlier this week announced an eight-part drama series about the Kaczynski case called Manifesto, in which Paul Bettany, as previously announced, will portray the bomber. The word now, according to THR, is that Sam Worthington (Avatar) is co-starring as Jim "Fitz" Fitzgerald, the noted FBI profiler who played a major role in Kaczynski’s ultimate capture. Greg Yaitanes (Quarry, Banshee) is the showrunner, and the series comes from both Lionsgate and Kevin Spacey’s production company.
Fitzgerald is a familiar figure; his FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit was the inspiration for the long-running CBS crime series Criminal Minds, with Fitzgerald serving in the past as a technical advisor on the show. He also played a part in another of the recent ‘90s crime series, The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey. A character based on Fitzgerald appeared on the fifth season of The Wire -- during the fake serial killer subplot, when he’s introduced to McNulty and Greggs as the profiler who caught the Unabomber, they ask, “didn’t that go on for 18 years? And didn’t his brother turn him in?”
Can Manifesto capture people’s imaginations the way People vs. O.J. Simpson did? Probably not, especially since the Unabomber case was never the mainstream phenomenon that O.J. was. Also, neither Bettany nor Worthington has had a career that’s been especially on fire of late, and it’s hard to imagine how this series will fill eight hours with the story of a man best known for writing a long manifesto.
There are some potentially intriguing aspects of the story, however, that could make for good drama: Perhaps making a Breaking Bad-style fall-from-grace out of a Harvard grad and PhD deciding to send bombs to people. Or the dynamic of Kaczynski’s brother discovering the Unabomber and making the likely gut-wrenching decision to notify authorities. Or the decisions by several newspapers over whether to accept Kaczynski’s offer to cease his bombing activities in exchange for their agreeing to publish his manifesto.
There’s no word yet on when Manifesto might debut.