History has a potential Emmy winner on its hands with the success of The World Wars, its miniseries which educated audiences on how some of the key players in World War II were shaped by their experiences in World War I. It's no surprise, because the series was produced by Stephen David Entertainment, which also put together History's Emmy-winning The Men Who Built America. Producer Stephen David joined us last week from Romania, where he's already hard at work on his next project Sons of Liberty, to discuss the development of The World Wars.
Anyone who watches History will know that it broadcasts a lot of World Wars-themed programming, so was there any concern on the part of Stephen and his team of trying to distinguish their project from everything that'd come before? "Definitely," he said. "We were trying to find a new angle, and originally it was the hundred-year anniversary of World War I, so originally it was just going to be the origin stories of these people. When we started looking into it, we thought actually you could see how the war just kept going, and the two wars were really just one war through the same people. It was actually one thirty-year war."
Okay, but history isn't the most popular subject. How did they successfully mix education with entertainment? "We did a program last year called The Men Who Built America, which was a documentary about the Industrial Revolution and robber barons," he explained. "[With] all of these shows, our version of documentary is to do it through character, so it feels a little more scripted. So it's not just a bunch of facts being thrown at you.
"We find that we have a huge young audience," he added. "We can see the following on Twitter. World Wars trended on Twitter in its premiere."
It probably also helped that The World Wars can boast a fantastic narrator: two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Avengers). Stephen told us how they pulled off landing such an A-list star. "It actually was luckily easier than I thought," he laughed. "We were fans of his, it made sense with The Hurt Locker, and we went to him and he was just very interested in the subject. And so that entire process took like two days to get him. He was just like the nicest, most gracious person about the whole thing. It's pretty nice when somebody that [famous] is that nice."
"I think the writing of these things is the hardest part," he continued, "because you're trying to decide what to put in and what not. I do really like the beginning of the show. It basically shows how Hilter got his mustache, which is basically the most iconic thing about Hitler. I've always loved the opening of that."
Audiences loved the miniseries, which was broadcast in more than 160 countries and featured a pre-taped introduction by President Barack Obama. It's not every day a project can boast both Jeremy Renner and the President of the United States, but this one can. And it's not hard to see why it attracted such talent and such a high level of interest: at the end of the day, this is a miniseries that brings these names from the history books into a very human focus.
"I think what's relatable about this to any time period - and I try very hard not to put my opinion into it - but if you watch it, I think you see this is how wars get started," Stephen reflected. "World War I and World War II were like a repeat performance, the way they started. And then you start looking at every war...People have egos and misunderstandings and all of that, and then hundreds of thousands or millions of people get killed, and it ends up with a bunch of people around a table negotiating something in the end."
He's going even further back in time for his next adventure. "My next thing coming out is for History Channel as well. It's called Sons of Liberty, and it's actually a scripted miniseries about how the Revolutionary War started," he told us. "It's all these names you know, like Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, who started a gang when they were in their twenties." No premiere date has been set for Sons, but it will boast a cast including Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist) and Emily Berrington (24: Live Another Day).
But before we look too far ahead, what about right now? How does it feel to have three Emmy nominations? "It's pretty incredible," Stephen said. "We're happy we actually get to make something that we like in the first place. Then to actually get nominations, it just is incredible. I'm kind of like anybody else in the business, just happy to be working."