‘The Americans’: The CIA Was Required to Review Every Script of the Show in Advance

TV shows that tackle real-life situations often work with experts to try to ensure that their creative license is still grounded in truth and realism. A show like Grey’s Anatomy may consult with actual doctors and medical staff to make sure their portrayal of the hospital is on point. Chicago Fire went so far as to cast real firefighters in some of their most intense scenes. 

In the case of The Americans, there are experts reviewing the scripts, but it’s for a completely different reason. Instead of checking in to make sure that the realism is represented well, the CIA reviews the scripts to make sure it doesn’t cross any lines of national security. 

‘The Americans’ was created by a former CIA agent

Set during the Cold War, The Americans stars Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Phillip Jennings. Together, they play the typical American suburbanites of the day, raising kids, going to work, and making friends with their D.C.-area neighbors. Little does anyone around them know that they are actually Russian spies deeply embedded in a network for subterfuge. 

The show premiered in 2013 and ran for six seasons before wrapping up in 2018. It garnered accolades for its realistic portrayal, and fans loved how deep the plots went into making them feel uncomfortable with their own assumptions. The series won four Primetime Emmy Awards over the course of its run and certainly served as a big boost for Rhys and Russell

The realism of The Americans was largely the result of its creator, Joe Weisberg. Weisberg had formerly served as a CIA agent. He worked with the agency from 1990 to 1994, and he drew upon those experiences to craft the gritty project.

The CIA required script reviews for ‘The Americans’

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo | Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The CIA generally frowns upon former agents taking their insider knowledge and spreading it around the world, and the series certainly did help spread some secret tips. For one thing, Weisberg taught members of the cast real surveillance techniques in order to make the movements of the characters seem more realistic. He had to get advanced permission from the CIA to do so. 

There was little danger of Weisberg accidentally — or intentionally — sharing state secrets, however. For one thing, his script was set in the Reagan-era past, and most of the information that was then top secret has since been declassified. For another, the CIA got the chance to review every script for the show, and they had the opportunity to require cuts if anything ever got too close to home. 

As Mental Floss reports, the CIA never actually required any edits. Weisberg said that aspect didn’t surprise him since he worked there so long ago. However, he admits it is a bit nerve-wracking: “I still worry a little bit, though. Before giving the demonstration of surveillance techniques, I had to submit a request ahead of time, but that was approved also.”

The CIA is no stranger to interacting with Hollywood

While the CIA had a vested interest in making sure that the scripts for The Americans didn’t leak any top secret information, there are other times they’ve interacted with Hollywood. In fact, the CIA has partnered with particular projects in order to help combat their negative image. Think of it like a secret promotional advertisement

When the CIA intervenes in a script, it may be to clean up its own image. In Black Hawk Down, for instance, a major character’s name was changed so as not to reflect too closely on real-life Army Ranger John Stebbins. They didn’t want anyone looking up the man’s more recent activities, which included going to prison for child rape. 

Like for The Americans, the CIA had veto power over scripts for Zero Dark Thirty. In exchange, they gave the creators expanded access to information used to create the script, but they also insisted on some specific portrayals of torture as necessary and useful to help promote their own agenda. 

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