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The Journal Gazette

Monday, July 31, 2017 1:00 am

Series follows tracking, capture of Unabomber

George Dickie | Zap2it

They were kindred spirits, two men with an intense distrust of technology and an ability to see things from a perspective few others could. Under normal circumstances, they might have been friends.

But Ted Kaczynski and Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald were on opposite sides of the law, the former the serial bomber known as the Unabomber, and the latter the FBI profiler who would eventually apprehend him. The story of one of most notorious serial murder cases of the late 20th century is told to dramatic effect in the new Discovery Channel series “Manhunt: Unabomber,” premiering Tuesday, Aug. 1.

It focuses on Fitz (Sam Worthington, “Avatar,” “Hacksaw Ridge”), an FBI agent and criminal profiler who pioneered the use of forensic linguistics to identify and ultimately capture Kaczynski (Paul Bettany, “Master and Commander,” “A Beautiful Mind”), an academic whose mail-bombing campaign from 1978-95 was responsible for killing three people and injuring 23 others.

Handed the case straight out of profiler training, Fitz isn't ready to accept his superiors' theory that this was the work of an uneducated airline mechanic with a grudge against society. Quite the contrary, he sees brilliance in the bomber's patterns and methods and contends it's the work of a man of uncommon intelligence.

His cohorts, among them UNABOM Task Force chief Don Ackerman (Chris Noth, “Sex and the City” ) and master profiler Frank McAlpine (Brian F. O'Byrne, “Aquarius”), aren't buying his theories, until a few of them prove correct. Fitz's ability to get into his subject's mind and think along with him buys him his own office and staff, as well as free rein.

“There's a similarity of personality and style,” explains showrunner Greg Yaitanes, “and we really focus on the mirroring between the two men that, really, to catch the Unabomber, you have to think and become the Unabomber. And the real Fitz in real life was equally obsessed with the case and talked about how he could not pull his head out of the manifesto.”

Prior to filming, Yaitanes spent three days with the real Fitzgerald and listened to all his stories, which along with Kaczynski's unpublished autobiography provided the framework of the series. Along the way, he found a few personality traits common to the two men.

“You know, prying any kind of how-you-feel information out of real Fitz – it's the same thing about Ted – they're not easily accessed to how they feel about things,” Yaitanes says, “and I found that to be an interesting trait that was coming out in the course of conversation. And I think, too, with that particular generation ... like when you say like, 'How did you feel about that?' you get more factual answers than you get emotional answers, which I thought was an interesting admission that I think we tried to bring into it.

“You see that our dramatization of Fitz tries to touch on that aspect that I thought was so fascinating about him, and it's really what gave him the edge.”