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© Copyright 2015, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved
© Copyright 2015, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved

16 Declassified Facts About The Americans

© Copyright 2015, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved
© Copyright 2015, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved

Undercover KGB officers Nadezhda and Mischa pose as travel agents Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a married American couple living in suburban Washington, D.C. in the 1980s-set The Americans. Complicating matters for the couple is hiding their life of espionage from their two kids, as well as from the American government, including their next door neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman.

Their pretend marriage evolves into a real one as the series progresses, as does the toll of keeping a heavy secret and committing crimes against a country to which they've acclimated. Here are some declassified facts about The Americans, which is currently nominated for five Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

1. IT WAS CREATED BY A FORMER CIA AGENT.

Joe Weisberg worked for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1990 to 1994, after wanting to be a spy since reading John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from The Cold. On his very first day, he realized he had made a mistake. “While I was taking the polygraph exam to get in, they asked the question, ‘Are you joining the CIA in order to gain experience about the intelligence community so that you can write about it later'—which had never occurred to me," Weisberg shared at PaleyFest. "I was totally joining the CIA because I wanted to be a spy. But the second they asked that question … then I thought, ‘Now I’m going to fail the test.'”

2. THE PILOT WAS BASED ON A 2010 FBI INVESTIGATION ON RUSSIAN SPIES.

The FBI busted a Russian spy ring in 2010, which revealed that 10 Russian spies had been living undercover in suburbs throughout the United States for more than a decade. "Some pulled off some real espionage of note, but more often, they would come over, open a business, and try to get a cover going," Weisberg explained. "Then the business would fail, the spies would start telling some lies back home, and then they would sort of disappear. That’s who was arrested in 2010, and Philip and Elizabeth are the 1981 version of those espionage officers."

3. JOE WEISBERG WANTED TO SET THE SHOW IN THE 1970s.

"My initial inclination when I decided I wanted to set the pilot in the Cold War was to go ’70s, strictly because I loved the hair and the music," Weisberg told The A.V. Club. "But I started thinking about Jimmy Carter—and I love Jimmy Carter too, actually—but it was hard to think of things getting too hot and everybody wanting to kill each other too much under Jimmy Carter. Then we started thinking about Ronald Reagan, and everything immediately clicked."

4. CASTING KERI RUSSELL AND MATTHEW RHYS WAS NOT WEISBERG'S IDEA.

© Copyright 2015, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved

FX Network president John Landgraf suggested Keri Russell. Leslee Feldman, head of casting at DreamWorks, suggested Matthew Rhys after seeing him in a play. Casting Margo Martindale to play the couple's handler, Claudia, was also Landgraf's idea. In 2015, Martindale won an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series Emmy for the role; she's nominated for the same award again this year.

5. KERI RUSSELL AND NOAH EMMERICH WEREN'T IMMEDIATELY SOLD ON THE SERIES.

Russell loved the pilot script, but she wasn't ready to commit. "I didn’t know that I wanted to do it," she told The Huffington Post. "I always say no to everything. I never want to do anything. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read it, and it was one of those things where I was riding my bike around Brooklyn or doing the dishes, and I kept trying to figure it out, because it’s so not clear. It’s still not clear to me. But there’s so many different levels to it."

Noah Emmerich, who plays Stan Beeman, didn't want to do a TV show where his character would carry a gun or a badge. "I'm done with guns and badges," he thought. But executive producer Gavin O'Connor, who directed the pilot, told Emmerich, "You're crazy if you don't think that you should do this."

6. WEISBERG TAUGHT THE CAST AND CREW SOME SURVEILLANCE TECHNIQUES.

Before shooting for the series began, Weisberg taught the leads and some of the producers and directors how to surveil others and how to recognize if you're being followed. One trick he taught them is that if you just cross a street, you can look around without drawing suspicion.

7. THE CIA READS EVERY SCRIPT THAT WEISBERG WRITES.

Every one of Weisberg's scripts must be submitted to the CIA's Publications Review Board one month before shooting. "They ask for a month, and we don’t really have that much time, so I send them in with what’s called a request to expedite," Weisberg told Slate in 2013. "I always feel a little bad about it: 'Dear Publications Review Board, here I am again asking for the expedited review ...' There haven’t been any occasions yet where they’ve asked me to take anything out of a script, which is what I expected, because I haven’t worked there for a number of years at this point. 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."

8. OLIVER NORTH HELPED WRITE AN EPISODE.

Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images

For the season two episode "Martial Eagle," where Philip and Elizabeth attempted to infiltrate a contra training camp, producers sought out someone within the Fox network family who was familiar with the Nicaraguan contras of the 1980s, which is how they ended up with former Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and Fox News personality Oliver North. North provided so much information that he was given a story credit on the installment.

9. IT'S SHOT IN NEW YORK CITY.

Uptown Manhattan typically doubles for Washington, D.C. They also film in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens, which has been dressed as West Germany. To maintain its period setting, the production team regularly has to remove flat-screen TVs, digital thermostats, refrigerators, and gas stoves from certain premises.

10. SOMETIMES, THE PRODUCTION DESIGN IS A LITTLE TOO GOOD.

"On our first episode, we had a scene [where] Keri Russell walks out of a bar, except it wasn’t a bar, it was an empty storefront, and we just dressed the front of it," production designer Diane Lederman told DNAinfo. "And all day long, people kept coming up and wanting to know when the new bar was opening."

11. THE WRITERS MAKE SURE PHILIP AND ELIZABETH DON'T CHANGE HISTORY TOO MUCH.

The writers decided not to have Philip and Elizabeth destroy Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative project, a.k.a. Star Wars, on the show. "We ... talked a lot about, should we have Philip and Elizabeth as the spies who destroy Star Wars?" Weisberg told The A.V. Club. "Should we work on the secret history, and have it be that Star Wars really could have worked, but our guys prevent it from working? And we had some really compelling stories along those lines, but also we felt it was taking too much liberty with the history. Even though it would be a lot of fun and make our heroes very heroic, at least to Moscow, it would warp our sense of reality for the show a little too much."

12. HOLLY TAYLOR WAS SURPRISED THAT PAIGE LEARNED THE TRUTH ABOUT HER FAMILY.

"It was in the middle of the season in the middle of an episode," Holly Taylor, who plays the Jennings' daughter Paige, recalled of learning that her character would be let in on the family secret. "It was very unpredictable, which is one of the great things about the show, it's always that way. I love the way that they did it ... We did that scene so many times and a bunch of different ways. All of us were sitting at the kitchen table on set just staring, zoned out, because it was just so draining filming that scene."

13. PAIGE'S VINTAGE WARDROBE IS PAINFUL (LITERALLY).

Taylor had to ask for a new pair of jeans for the third season. “Usually I try and deal with it because they’re a little snug," Taylor admitted to The New York Times. "But I went to sit down, and I thought my rib cage would crack open.”

14. THEY GOT PERMISSION TO USE THE SONG "UNDER PRESSURE" TWO DAYS BEFORE DAVID BOWIE'S PASSING.

Dire Straits's "If I Had You" was the initial choice of music for the season four episode "Clark's Place," but when they heard how well Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" worked in the director's cut, Weisberg and showrunner Joel Fields sought out clearance. They quickly discovered that their music supervisor had emailed them about a year earlier saying Bowie was a fan of The Americans and using one of his songs would not be a problem.

15. FRANK LANGELLA THOUGHT HE WAS A GONER.

© Copyright 2015, FX Networks. All Rights Reserved.

Frank Langella portrays Gabriel, Philip and Elizabeth's current KGB handler. "At one point I thought they were going to kill me because there was a scene where I sort of got down on the floor and said, 'I’m sorry. I need to sit down. I don’t feel well.' I thought oh, the next episode would be that—I was dead. But so far they haven’t killed me. It’s a good year."

16. IT'S ENDING IN 2018.

A 13-episode fifth season in 2017 will lead into a 10-episode sixth and final season in 2018. Fields and Weisberg have described the recent fourth season's conclusion as the end of the second act of what they consider to be a three-act play.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
iStock

Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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