By Ian Shapira
The place in Brooklyn looks like a CIA safehouse. Red brick office building with peeling metal awning. No sign. Inside, writers are plotting out the popular Cold War espionage show “The Americans” — one of an assortment of Hollywood spy and national security dramas being driven by ex-spies.
The show’s creator and co-head writer, Joe Weisberg, is a former CIA officer who never fathomed that he would one day sit in an office with Soviet propaganda posters and a cutout figure of President Ronald Reagan, concocting television fiction.
“When I left the CIA, if you were going to ask me, ‘Would you write about espionage?’ I’d say, ‘Absolutely not. It would be a betrayal,’?” said Weisberg, 49, a spy-turned-novelist who got tapped by Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles to write television scripts. “I had never heard of CAA before. Now that’s like the CIA to me. It’s this huge thing in my life.”
The career afterlife of a CIA official has typically followed well-known paths: Work for a private military contractor. Launch an “intelligence-driven” LLC. Join a law firm. Consult for the CIA. Write a memoir. But the hunger for espionage on TV and movies in recent years is cracking open new career opportunities for ex-CIA personnel with a flair for drama, the kind that’s less clandestine.
“Hollywood tends to be a destination spot for a lot of Washingtonians,” said David Nevins, the president of Showtime, which produces the spy juggernaut “Homeland.”
“There was the ‘West Wing’ crowd of former politicos. I’ve met with more than one former Navy SEAL. And now, certainly the intelligence community has been the most recent in a long line of Washingtonians trying to come out and tell their stories.”
Weisberg, whose show begins its third season on FX on Wednesday night, is perhaps the most successful of the CIA alumni who have infiltrated Hollywood. “The Americans,” about two deep-cover KGB operatives living in suburban Virginia in the 1980s, was ranked by many television critics as one of last year’s top 10 shows.
But Weisberg, who left the CIA in 1994, is hardly the only ex-agency guy trying to cash in on the spy show craze. (Spy shows, one executive at a major Hollywood talent agency observed, have become as ubiquitous as cop shows.) Former senior CIA officials Rodney Faraon and Henry “Hank” Crumpton are the executive producers of NBC’s “State of Affairs,” which stars Katherine Heigl as a CIA analyst and member of the agency’s presidential daily briefing team — one of Faraon’s old jobs.