Destinations

Once Secretive New Mexico Town Is Banking on a TV Hit to Bring Tourism

Jul 27, 2014 12:00 pm

Skift Take

We applaud Los Alamos’ enthusiasm for tourism and TV, but let’s wait and see if we have an on-screen hit first. That’s the most successful ingredient in a television-fueled tourism boom.

— Jason Clampet

Free Report: The State of Student Travel

WGN America

Still from the television show "Manhattan." WGN America


Los Alamos, the town that mushroomed in secrecy, now hopes all eyes will be on it.

The television series Manhattan premieres Sunday night, and this one-hour weekly drama is shining a spotlight on Los Alamos, not New York City. A mix of fact and fiction, the show is about the Manhattan Project scientists and staff members who built the first atomic bomb during World War II.

“Our work is so classified the vice president doesn’t know we exist,” one of the show’s characters says in a preview clip.

It’s no wonder John Nance Garner complained that being vice president was not worth a bucket of warm spit. Garner left office before Manhattan begins in 1943. Henry A. Wallace was vice president by then and, apparently, in the dark.

Another character in the series teaser makes it plain that the characters in Manhattan will be more than pretty faces. “We have the highest combined IQ of any town in America,” he says.

The show looks slick and inviting, many of the scenes having been shot in and around Santa Fe. But for viewers, the setting is Los Alamos, and townspeople hope the series will mean a spike in tourism.

“If the hit cable series Breaking Bad was any indication of how powerful exposure can be for the community it features, Los Alamos could see an influx of visitors,” said a press handout about the community’s hopes.

Time Out Pizza, 1350 Central Ave. in Los Alamos, will host a Manhattan viewing party at 7 p.m. Sunday. Victor Thoren, the pizzeria manager, said sports shows will be clicked off, and every television set will be on WGN America for Manhattan’s debut.

Then four of seven staff members of the Los Alamos Historical Society will hold a post-show discussion at the pizzeria. Heather McClenahan, executive director of the historical society, will be one of them, sorting fact from fiction.

McClenahan said in an interview that she has read the scripts for the first two shows. But she declined to offer any critique, fearing spoilers might work against the town.

“I don’t want to give it away,” she said.

Institutions and businesses hope to capitalize on whatever interest Manhattan generates in its 13 episodes. Tour guides, the Los Alamos Historical Museum and the Bradbury Science Museum all hope the series will grab audiences the way Breaking Bad did.

During its five-year run that ended last year, Breaking Bad was so successful that state legislators voted to increase the state subsidy for television series that shoot in New Mexico.

Breaking Bad chronicled a dying science teacher who embarks on a dangerous new career as a producer of methamphetamine. It was pure fiction.

No matter. Breaking Bad’s storyline has drawn visitors from as far as Asia and Europe. Tourists even have sought out a Twisters restaurant that played a part in the series. A real-life a hamburger and Mexican food restaurant, Twisters had a different name and a different mission in the series. It specialized in chicken dinners while serving as a front for a drug dealer’s empire.

Manhattan will be fact-based but with plenty of dramatic license. In that sense, it will be similar to Mad Men, about a fictional ad agency in the swirling 1960s.

Everyone in Los Alamos will be watching the new show, hoping this version of the Manhattan Project doesn’t bomb.

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