EXCLUSIVE: In a competitive situation, FX has landed rights to turn the Mark Bowden bestseller Hue 1968 into a limited event series that will span eight-10 hours. Michael Mann and Michael De Luca will creatively quarterback the adaptation of Bowden’s kaleidoscopic account of the bloody siege that became the turning point of American involvement in the Vietnam War. Mann plans to direct multiple installments of the series, including the opener, and he will produce alongside De Luca and FX Productions. The hope is to be shooting by year’s end in Asia. The book was just published to critical acclaim by Grove Atlantic.
Bowden’s historical books often have been optioned by Hollywood, and the best result came with the Ridley Scott-directed 2001 thriller Black Hawk Down. While that film told the story from the perspective of elite American soldiers who raided Somalia and then attempted to rescue downed pilots when things went awry, Hue 1968 will be a different exercise. Bowden wrote the book from multiple vantage points, and the series adaptation will humanize the conflict by telling the story through the eyes of different characters on both sides over a 26-day period. The cultural and historical capital city, Hue was the centerpiece of Hanoi’s 1968 Tet Offensive, a surprise attack by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong that sought to win the war in one stroke. Part military action and popular uprising, NVA infantry crossed mountains, undetected, with smuggled weapons awaiting them. This set the stage for a surprise attack that overran the city except for two small military outposts.
The intertwined characters include a seemingly innocent schoolgirl on a bike, whose heart had hardened her into a revolutionary after her sister was executed, leading her to help smuggle weapons; a former NFL tackle who became a U.S. Marine colonel and tactician; a Buddhist poet-turned-Viet Cong commissar; an American civilian meeting his Vietnamese fiancée’s family; a math teacher from Hanoi in the North Vietnamese Army; a Marine captain radio operator from Pennsylvania, who immersed himself in local culture and language and then found himself unable to convince his supervisors that Hue had been overrun by conventional infantry; and President Lyndon Johnson in his pajamas in the White House with Gen. William Westmoreland, a sleepover guest who presented a rosy view of progress in Vietnam. The limited series will follow Bowden’s narrative structure to make understandable why bloody events unfolded the way they did and made clear that Vietnam was an unwinnable war for the U.S.
When Deadline revealed in April that Mann and De Luca had acquired the Bowden book on their own, Mann called it “a masterpiece of intensely dramatic nonfiction.” Bowden’s achievement is in making “them into us,” said Mann. “We are them. There are no background people; people abstracted into statistics, body counts. There is the sense that everybody is somebody, as each is in the actuality of their own lives. The brilliance of Bowden’s narrative, the achievement of interviewing hundreds of people on all sides and making their human stories his foundation, is why Hue 1968 rises to the emotional power and universality of For Whom the Bell Tolls and All Quiet on the Western Front.”
The producers chose FX largely because of an affinity toward network chief John Landgraf, whom Mann considers an auteur executive in the mold of Brandon Tartikoff when Mann made Miami Vice and Crime Story at NBC, and Mike Lombardo at HBO when Mann and David Milch teamed on Luck.
Johnny Pariseau will shepherd the mini for De Luca Productions with Justine Suzanne Jones at Mann’s Forward Pass.