Geeks may remember Johnson as a writer and/or producer and/or director of series like THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and the original BIONIC WOMAN. He brought us THE INCREDIBLE HULK series (starring Bill Bixby), and developed the TV version of ALIEN NATION - for which he also produced, wrote, and directed (Johnson lorded over the five TV movies that followed as well).
And, then there's V. Possibly Johnson's magnum opus, it's a hyper-allegorical tale of aliens coming to Earth as "friends"...only to be revealed as duplicitous, scheming, reptilian bastard enemies. Strongly evoking the rise of Nazi power in Germany, Johnson's miniseries spawned a sequel (the inaccurately titled V: THE FINAL BATTLE) and a subsequent weekly series.
However, only the original miniseries reflected Johnson's full intent and vision. Politics steered him away from V: THE FINAL BATTLE, thus the resulting project (and everything that followed) differed significantly from the concepts and storyline he'd intended from the outset.
The recently published V: THE SECOND GENERATION aims to rectify that; the book reflects how Johnson would've unfolded V had he remained involved with the franchise.
David Chase, a longtime associate of, source for, and contributor to AICN, recently had a chance to speak with Johnson at some length...regarding everything from V, to Johnson's assessment of newly revisited concepts like HULK and BIONIC WOMAN.
Here's David Chase...
Kenneth Johnson has quite the Hollywood career. For the past 30 years he has taken on the roles of a screenwriter, executive producer and director for some of the biggest and most popular TV series of the 70s and 80s.
While his credits include the award-winning Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk (1970s), by the late 80s his name had become legend with his sci-fi hit Alien Nation.
But a few years earlier, in 1983, the world was introduced to Johnson’s landmark NBC television mini-series; V. V told the story of reptilian aliens disguised as humans who came to Earth posing as peaceful visitors - with their own ulterior motives of robbing the planet of its resources and harvesting humans for food. It became one of the network’s highest rated programs, and an instant 80s pop-culture phenomenon.
25 years later mastermind Ken Johnson has resurrected the battle between the human resistance and the gopher gobbling reptilians with V: The Second Generation, the dark, action packed, eye-opening, social commentary sequel to his original sci-fi endeavor that picks up 20 years after his original story.
This weekend I had the chance to talk to Ken Johnson and get the scoop on the secrets behind his new book, the possibility of a new V movie, his reactions on the recent remakes of some of his award-winning TV shows and much more.
I have grouped the subject matter for this interview, which will be presented in 3 parts because, well, Ken loves to talk about his work. And, quite honestly, I was happy to have him share his experiences so openly and candidly.
I hope you’ll enjoy what he had to say as much as I did.
Here’s the 1st Q&A, in which Kenny and I chat about his new novel; V: The Second Generation which is in stores and on bookshelves now.
DAVID CHASE: Your work is well known to have lots of underlining political undertones and parallels that mirror certain…dark moments in human history. In your new book; V: the Second Generation, would you say that any of the story is influenced by current world events - like things going on in Iraq, or a post- 9/11 society?
KENNETH JOHNSON: Well, 9/11 would never have had happened if The Visitors were in control - so I sort of skirt that, but what I wanted to do was literally pick up the story 20 yrs later and see what had become of the people that we loved or the villains that we hated…and how the Earth had changed. It continues to be a metaphoric allegory piece that I hope people will get swept up in.
It’s sort of a brave new world piece where The Visitors have acknowledged the fact that they are reptilian, but they continue to wear the skins because they don’t want to come off as being offensive to us.
They have cured Cancer and AIDS and Heart Disease, and have done a lot of wonderful things and really seem to have been the saviors of humanity.
Yes, they admit they are taking our water, but their attitude is: ‘think of it as planetary Dialysis we’re gonna clean that water and then we’re going to bring it back and everything is going to be fine’. Because they control all the media, and censor all communications, the only side of the story we hear in the public is their side of the story.
DC: Now, where is the Resistance throughout all of this?
KJ: The resistance has been fighting back for those two decades…trying to get the truth out. At the point where the novel picks up, they are kind of at the end of their rope and ready to give up.
The Resistance has just been beaten down to a pulp, and then…when what seems to be their darkest hour comes… there’s suddenly this knock on the backdoor and there’s these 3 very peculiar people there who look pretty much like us. But as we’ll discover, they are not…and they say “Hi, remember that distress call you sent out 20 years ago? Well…we got it and we’re here to help” (…or are we!?!?!)
DC: For those who may not remember, can you set-up that clearly pivotal plot point from the original mini-series? The distress call…
KJ: Sure, at the end of my original 4 hours, Faye Grant (Juliet Parish), my leading lady sent out a message into deep space trying to contact any enemies of the visitors, hoping that the enemy of my enemy would be my friend you know? And the question is…are they? Or do they have their own agenda and I thought that was a really interesting engine that could drive the story here.
DC: Have the underlining tones of the original V saga remained?
When I wrote the original V, there were 2 superpowers vying for dominance in the world - us and the Soviet Union. Now there’s just one, and its not a super power - it’s a hyper power - and its us!
So one of the things I wanted to explore in V: The Second Generation is the dangers of an unchallenged monolithic hyper power, where we, your wise leaders know what’s best for you - so stay the course and trust us and don’t ask too many questions or we’ll send you to Guantanamo Bay or worse . Just trust us.
And I think in many ways, V is a more metaphoric novel now and story now then it was even when I started out…
DC: News of this book…and a possible re-make of the original V story…has been floating around the web for quite some time. What has been the delay in getting it finally released?
KJ: I originally sold the story back in 2004 to NBC as a miniseries, and unfortunately it wasn’t the same experience as I had 20 years ago with Brandon Tartikoff who said; “I love it, here’s a check, come back when you’re done.”
This was much more tangled, mostly because of the new corporate structure and integration and it was really quite the mess. By the time we got it to the place we really liked it and was all comfortable, they had run out of money, no one was making mini series any more, and I had already begun working on the novel because I really was so excited about the story…I had to tell about the new characters that I had created…that I really wanted to get the story out there to the hundreds of millions of fans (literally) around the world. That’s what prompted the novel.
DC: There a recent trend in Hollywood now of having later numbered “sequels”,
or re-imagined visions of films picking up at a time-line earlier in the movie’s franchise.
We’re seeing films like Superman Returns, or TV shows like Knight Rider, which dismiss spin-offs and established sequels. So, how does V: The Second Generation fit into the V universe amidst The Final Battle mini-series, the subsequent TV series, the comic books and numerous novels of the extended universe of The Visitors…?
KJ: I think I know where your going with this…does this involve the material in the 1984 sequel and the later the really, really dreadful series?
The answer is no, it skips over that material for a couple of reasons. First, I’m not even really sure what’s in that material…I know that the original 6 hour sequel I supervised the writing of back in 1983 was a really, really good script that were excited about, but I ultimately left Warners before it got produced. It ended up being handed off to other people who didn’t really quite get it.
I heard from some of my actor friends who worked on it, they said “Kenny don’t ever look at it, it will drive you crazy because they just missed the whole point of what we were doing and what you had wanted to do”. So, to this day, I have only really seen about 30 seconds of “The Final Battle” - and that was by accident, channel surfing one day. And in those 30 seconds, I watched them make every wrong choice they could make in 30 seconds…and I knew I’d never be able to deal with seeing the whole thing.
So I built the novel and Second Generation off what I had originally constructed in the 4 hour mini-series, and took it the way I always wanted to see it go, and I know it will be disappointing to some who had favorite characters who appeared in The Final Battle and such…but I had to really stick with my original vision.
DC: So as I picked up my copy of V: The Second Generation, I couldn’t help but flip thru it & look for certain character names. A few major ones I found scattered thru it, but I got worried, because no where did I see the name Mike Donovan…
KJ: Ahhh, so “Where’s Donovan, where is Donovan!!?!” Well he was allegedly killed in a big purge that happened in 1999, when somebody gave out a lot of names and a lot of the resistance was taken down. And he was apparently killed before that in an uprising in London, but…don’t lose faith, keep reading…(laughs). You wont be disappointed, and by the way here’s a little trivia for you: both characters; Mike and Julie, are named after my 2 kids, Michael and Julie. I also like to put names of friends into this universe, so you’ll discover that 4 of my principle heroes in the book are Ayden, Nathan, Emma and Ruby, - and those are my grandchildren’s names.
DC: A theme that flows thru a lot of your work seems to be characters who experience discrimination, whether its an outcast scientist, or a race of marooned aliens. Do you carry that theme into V: The Second Generation?
KJ: Well yes in The Second Generation, after 20 years, there’s been a lot of inner breeding between the aliens and ourselves - so there’s this whole underclass of half breeds in V: The Second Generation that are the offspring of visitors and humans. They are all under 20, of course, because The Visitors have only been there for 20 years.
Like children of French mothers who had relationships with German fathers during World War 2, those children are without a world, because neither world wants them, and I thought that was a really wonderful thing to explore and see how it affected each of them personally…
DC: Well, you stressed that this book doesn’t contain some of the plot points that the later incarnations of the original mini-series had…but talking about ½ breeds of alien and visitors, can we assume then that there are all these “Star Children” hybrids running around Earth with powers like Elizabeth had?
KJ: No, first off, in what we wrote originally, Elizabeth had no powers - that was all nonsense that was created by the people who took over the project after I left. And when I heard about it, it made me really gag. Because, you see, it was not logical…it had no organic nature and…no, these people are simply like…you and me, but they are ½ human and ½ reptilian…and it manifests itself in different ways with different individuals.
You’ll get to the part in the book where we reintroduce the Robert Englund character; Willie, who we discover has been married to Harmy (the waitress from the plant in the original V). They have an offspring named Ted. With Ted, one of his eyes is human and the other is not, and he has scales on parts of his head - but the rest of his head looks human…one hand has an alien feel to it, the other a human feel to it. So, he’s literally a person that’s of 2 worlds. It’s not unlike what the offspring of Caucasians and African-Americans faced many years ago, and probably in many ways still do.
It’s very intriguing I think and I hope people will enjoy it and see the social context I’m trying to put it into.
DC: Do you think that the die hard V fans who loved your original novel (and the original mini series) will jump right into The Second Generation novel & be able to get their long-awaited fix after 25 years?
KJ: Absolutely. The challenge I faced was wanting to fulfill the expectations of the fans who were familiar with V originally, or have seen it over the years in some of the many times it was re-broadcast on TV…or maybe thru the DVDs.
But at the same time, I also wanted to draw in anybody who had never heard a word about V before and very quickly get them up to speed and that’s what I really tried to do.Especially in chapter 2 of the book.
We see San Francisco the way it exists today, and on the one hand you’re getting the propaganda stick that The Visitors are telling the world that is broadcast every Monday morning to every school child in the world…telling us how wonderful everything is. At the same time, though, I wanted to have the word coming thru from The Resistance…thru their bootleg videos…saying, ‘NO, NO, this is what’s true’, so the audience very quickly says ‘Ok, this is what The Visitors are saying, and they are obviously lies, and here’s what The Resistance is saying.’
By the time your into the 3rd or 4th chapter, you’ve really got the whole world laid out for you …much the same way Phillip K Dick did in Blade Runner, and as they did in the movie, because in that story you were entering a brave new world and you had to get up to speed pretty quickly.
So, I’ve tried to make it virtually accessible to everybody - but also reward the fans who have stuck with it and had the story be a part of their consciousness for the past 20 years…
Johnson will be attending the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention on Sunday, February 17, 2008, where he'll be signing copies of V: The Second Generation between 12-2:00pm. He'll also be speaking and signing at the Barnes & Noble in Encino, California on March 5th at 7:30pm.