New HULK Movie "much more like the original series"!! ALIEN NATION!! BIONIC Then & Now!! STEEL!! Kenneth Johnson Part 3!!
Published at: Feb. 15, 2008, 4:38 p.m. CST by merrick
...with the final installment of our three part interview with Kenneth Johnson.
You can find Part 1 HERE, and Part 2 HERE!
There's some interesting talk about the new HULK movie about half way down, specifically referring to how similar it'll (apparently) be to Johnson's original Bixby series.
Here's our man David Chase...
In this 3rd and last installment of my interview with Kenneth Johnson, conducted during the V: The 2nd Generation promotional Q&A, I’ve included all of our discussions about some of Kenny’s other TV accomplishments - and also got his take on some the recent re-makes of television shows and movies that were based on the 1970’s series he originally wrote, produced and directed.
I also got some dirt on the future of Alien Nation, and learned some things about the show I never knew…
DAVID CHASE: What I’ve always loved about your work Ken is that you have all these fictional characters and creatures and aliens…but they are dealing with issues that real people face in a real world.
More so, something I noticed about your shows, which were heavy in saturated sci-fi, is that I always had girlfriends who would have no qualms whatsoever about curling up next to me while I watched Alien Nation or V and would enjoy it as much as I did…
KENNETH JOHNSON: And that’s something I hear a lot of from my fans coincidentally. What’s interesting is that in all of my work, even going back thru The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk and Alien Nation, the largest audience for all of my work has been females!
Which is really unusual for someone who has been working in the science fiction area. And it’s so rewarding to know that my largest audience is female, and I think that’s one of the biggest things that people don’t realize. I try to make people understand that the stuff that I do is really based on character and relationship, and not based on special effects and “ooh-aah” and alien stuff. That’s just the surface of it, and it’s honestly just about how everyday people react to extraordinary nightmare circumstances…and how it brings out the worse in some, and for others thrust them into levels of heroism they didn’t even know they had inside of them…
DC: Back in the day, you were involved in the creation, writing, producing and directing of the original Bionic Woman TV series. Obviously there was the recent (and short-lived) Bionic Woman NBC series - which was eagerly anticipated, but quickly lost its audience and the ratings. Did you get to see it, and if so, what are your thoughts??
KJ: Well, I was not involved in it. I saw a good bit of the pilot when it was first made, and I felt very clearly they were going in a much different direction…not my cup of tea would be the polite way of putting it. I just felt it was just so grim and dark and particularly violent that it missed all the humanity and humor that we had originally brought to the Bionic Woman all of those years ago.
And I was constrained at the time, I made the original Bionic Woman because I had to follow the similar format that was laid out by the Six Million Dollar Man. But even in that, I tried to make the shows very personal - and had the woman who had become bionic, struggling to understand what she was and continue to be herself in spite of that. She didn’t suddenly become a martial artist…that just doesn’t happen to people.
This new version I just found to me that they missed the essence of it, and certainly they didn’t have the great benefit of having Lindsay Wagner…or an actress of that caliber…who was so completely compelling and human and believable and accessible in that role.
DC: Compared to your show, the new one was more action packed…and also darker…
KJ: Certainly, yes. The violence level was interesting because in the original Bionic Woman…and also in the Incredible Hulk…neither one of them ever threw a punch at anybody.
To me that was just way too easy. It was not clever, it was not fun it was not inventive. If you look at the old Bionic Woman episodes, you see her tipping things over on people, pulling the rug out from people, that sort of thing - but never once did she throw a punch.
And to me…that was built out of the nature of how I saw Jamie and how Lindsey, and how I felt she should portray the character. Sure, she certainly went on missions and had to jump up high and jump down low and bash her way into doorways and that sort of thing - but never in a million years would she have picked a fight, it was just too easy.
I was also a little surprised in watching this new version that they would introduce what we call in the trade as “the evil twin” in the pilot episode. I mean, that’s the sort of thing you save till Season 3…when you’re getting a little tired and need a shot in the arm.
DC: You’re not involved with the latest incarnation, but as the mastermind behind the original Incredible Hulk TV series, what are your thoughts on the various big screen versions of Hulk?
KJ: As far as the new one…and I’ve heard this from just about everybody though who’s been involved with it…including Louie Ferrigno who’s had something to do with it…and several of my production friends…they’ve said that they were going back to a feel much more like the original series. Gee what a concept you know?
In fact, I saw something on-line the other day that the French Director (Louis Leterrier) had been a big fan of the original show...and that they even licensed Joe Hartnell’s music so they could use that Lonely Man’s theme.
And, recently, someone sent me a photo that was floating around the web - I thought it was from my pilot with Bill Bixby sitting in that big medical chair when he first got his Gamma Ray overdose. But as I looked closer, I realized it wasn’t Bix, but it was Edward Norton! And I said “Holy Shit, that looks exactly like mine!”
So that was encouraging, and I have a great deal of respect for Ed not only as an actor, but also as a writer - and I understand he had a big strong hand in the script, and I think that will help bring a certain level of humanism and humanity back to it…I felt they really missed the boat with the first movie. And, obviously, I wasn’t alone; the audience seemed to feel that way too.
But I have hopes with this new one that they’ll come closer to the level of humanity that we tried to present through the Banner character in the TV series.
DC: You mentioned Lou Ferrigno, and I’m glad to hear he’s involved with this new Hulk project. Let me ask you, back doing the original TV series, what was it like working with him?
Because it seems to me that body-builders and muscle-heads were not as common a sight as they are nowadays, so I’m assuming he carried a Greek god sort of presence on the set…?
KJ: Oh, no question about it. Yeah, back then he had 26 inch biceps; he had the biggest arms in the world, literally! He set a record, he was huge, and he had to workout hard because in addition to working out for the show. He had to work out to keep looking like that, and the way we filmed him too…I was very careful in the camera placement and angles and lenses that I picked so he’d look even BIGGER than he really was. It was great fun to do the show. By the way, the Incredible Hulk Season 3, 4 & 5 are coming out in June, just before the new movie does, so I hear.
DC: Speaking of bulked up super-heroes…and I know I’m resurrecting probably a ghost from the past that you might’ve wanted to stay buried…but before our interview I was watching the news about Shaquille O’Neil’s recent trade to the Phoenix Suns, and it triggered a recollection that you actually wrote and directed the movie starring Shaq called Steel. So I thought I’d ask you about your Steel experience…
KJ: Gosh, I didn’t even think anyone was aware of it anymore! (laughs) That was a very frustrating experience, because when Quincy Jones asked if I would write and direct Steel, it was not a character I had ever heard of…but I loved the idea of a black hero.
There really hadn’t been one up until that point, but I was very, very concerned from the outset that we needed a star to open the movie, and they said they had Shaq attached, and said ‘that’s great’…and he seemed like a really nice guy…and proved to be an absolutely nice guy.
But I said Quincy, ‘He’s not going to open the movie’. Why did they put Arnold Schwarzenegger in George Clooney’s Batman? Because, at that time, George Clooney couldn’t open a movie…they needed that extra star power. Unfortunately for Steel, Warners never wanted to step up and do that - in spite of the fact that we made a movie that tested really, really well with family audiences all over the country. I was fearful that that it wasn’t going to bring numbers into the theater, and I hate it when I’m right. But, working with Shaq was great. We had a really good time - we just needed a movie star to open the picture.
DC: In recent years…with shows like Family Guy, Jericho, and Futurama that were been cancelled but had a strong enough cry from fans that they were brought back to the air…I could only wish that your Alien Nation series would have been so lucky.
KJ: Boy, as do I. You know, we did one season of the show, then Barry Diller cancelled it because he thought he could get bigger numbers with comedies and boy he was wrong! (laughs)
A year after they cancelled it, Peter Chernin over at FOX got in front of the Television Critics Association and publicly apologized, saying that canceling Alien Nation was the biggest mistake we ever made. Of course, I was on the phone 5 minutes later saying ‘Soooo Peter?”
It took me a couple years of beating my head against the wall, but finally they let me do a movie that picked up the story and carried it on. It was called Alien Nation: Dark Horizon and it became the highest rated movie FOX had ever done.
DC: But it didn’t end there…
KJ: It did NOT end there, you’re right. They were inspired to buy 4 more, and for all of us who did the show it was like a gift from the gods. It was the most fun any of us ever had, on any project, EVER!
One of the things I did for the upcoming Alien Nation: Ultimate Collection DVD release as a matter of fact, is I got the whole cast together in my living room a few months ago, we had 4 video cameras rolling and we all just talked about it. And you know a lot of actors would have no interest in even knowing the actors they worked with 10 years ago, let alone getting back together to chew the fat. But this was like a family from the get go.
DC: As I recall, these 2 hour specials broke some ratings records - and were just as exciting, if not more to watch, than the TV series itself…
KJ: Oh yeah. The movies were all wonderful, and all critically acclaimed and received, and we never got a bad review. It was so cool, and the critics sort of adopted us as their darling. It was great, and the audience loved it too.
But more important was how much we enjoyed doing the show. Again, it was not Lethal Weapon with Aliens” - which was how the original feature film was pitched. It was more like In the Heat of the Night because it was about intolerance, and about prejudice, and discrimination, and culture clash. That, to me, was what made Alien Nation so extraordinarily fun to do, but also worthwhile to do - and it was great.
We got awards from almost every minority group you can imagine, from Asian Americans to Hispanic Americans, the Jewish Community, the Black community, the Gay & Lesbian community…everyone thought it was about them because it was about how a minority tries to blend in with the majority.
DC: So Alien Nation: The Ultimate Collection comes out on DVD in April. What can fans look forward to seeing on it?
KJ: It’s going to be great because I put together a lot of special features, and behind the scenes features, gag reels and photo galleries. It’s a really, really good set that I’m proud of.
Last year they put out the original TV pilot, and another DVD with all the TV episodes. But what this is the 5 new movies done after the series was cancelled, that continued the story and allowed us to do some really interesting work…partly because we had bigger budgets on the movies than we did on the TV series. But, ultimately, it came down to character and the largest audience for the show was female!!!
Our demographics were so perfect: we had 18-49 women 1st , and then same age of men, then teenagers and then kids. People just really got it, and the fan mail I still get is so rewarding.
People say it wasn’t just entertainment, which it clearly was. But there was something else going on beyond that, and that made it so much fun and interesting for us to do.
Thanks to Aint It Cool and Amy Currie with Phenix Literary Publicists.
And a very special thanks to Kenneth Johnson, for taking the time to sit down and catch us up on his past, present and future projects.
His new book; V: The Second Generation is available in bookstores now. He also has a website where you can check out pictures from his various projects, and keep tabs on developments in his career: http://kennethjohnson.us/
For those fans of Kenny who live on the West Coast, he’ll 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.
Ken will also be speaking and signing at the Barnes and Noble in Encino California on March 5th at 7:30pm.
All the Best,