[CNI News notes that the new fall series "Dark Skies" on NBC is yet another vision of Alien Invasion, following the lead of such shows as Babylon 5 and Space: Above and Beyond, not to mention the summer big-screen films "The Arrival" and "Independence Day." But Dark Skies goes further by introducing many historical figures into the plot, blurring the line between fiction and reality. As with the online saga currently unfolding at the EON-4 website, many viewers might begin to wonder if they're watching "entertainment" or news. The following article appeared in the July 1996 issue of "Cinescape" magazine, written by Edward Gross.]
Was Lee Harvey Oswald an alien dupe? Did Nelson Rockefeller cover up an E.T. invasion? NBC's fall series "Dark Skies" offers a take on real events that you won't find in your old high-school history books.
Fox Mulder's better half isn't Dana Scully -- it's John Loengard, chief alien hunter on NBC's soon-to-be-launched Dark Skies, a challenging sci-fi series in which Loengard serves more or less as Mulder's predecessor. He's a government employee in the early '60s who battles to bring the truth about space aliens to the public. And along the way he interacts, in a twist that makes the network rather nervous, with a variety of historical figures, from Robert Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller to Jack Ruby.
"Our concept," says co-creator and executive producer Bryce Zabel, "is that we're going to march through recent history and show you what really happened behind the scenes. We start out in the '60s, and by our fourth season, when it's 1999, we will have caught up with [present] time: The alien presence may make an announcement on the eve of the millennium."
The aliens in question are the Hive, parasitic creatures that attach themselves to the brains of humans and eventually take control of the nervous system. Hive members communicate telepathically, and are working in unison to achieve world-wide "Singularity" (or, as Star Trek's Borg would say, assimilation). En route to that goal, they play a role -- either directly or indirectly -- in some of the most significant events of recent years. For instance, ever wonder what really caused the New York City blackout in 1965? Well, it turns out that a Hive saucer orchestrated it to stop the broadcast of filmed proof of alien infestation. Apollo 17, it will be revealed, was actually a strike against a Hive moon base; SDI was secretly designed as an offensive weapons system against Hive spacecraft, resulting in the retaliatory destruction of the Challenger. The list continues.
"This is a large canvas to paint on, and I for one love to find the relationships between unrelated things," says Zabel, who co-wrote the pilot episode with Brent Friedman. "One of the things Brent and I did was create a timeline, and we literally plugged in all of the major events of the 1960s. Then we added UFO sightings; unexplained phenomena of the same period and we were able to see which things matched up. The results would surprise you. Things you wouldn't normally group together begin to take on meaning. Listen, it's bound to be controversial, and I'm sure that we will have fans who will really like us but will also be hard on us. Each of them will probably have their own take on how the show should go, and that's great. I'll meet them on Internet and we can talk about it."
The pilot for Dark Skies begins in 1961 as young lovers John Loengard (Eric Close) and Kimberly Sayers (Megan Ward) arrive in Washington, D.C., as low-level members of President Kennedy's "New Frontier." They optimistically embrace the future, aspiring to some day become President and First Lady. Their dreams are short-lived, however, when Loengard becomes involved with a secret unit of the government called Majestic-12. Supervised by Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh), MJ-12 has hard evidence that an alien craft crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947. Fifteen years later, with Loengard tagging along, the group encounters an alien "ganglion" attached to the nervous system of an Idaho farmer, leading them to conclude that an alien race is systematically taking over the minds of human beings. Loengard subsequently learns that President Kennedy has no knowledge of MJ-12 or the aliens, and that Bach has no plans to tell him. Loengard, however, defies his master, and three days later, Kennedy is assassinated to keep the secret contained.
"Loengard and Sayers are considered loose cannons by MJ-12 and pursued by the very organization that considered the death of the president an acceptable method of keeping a secret," says Zabel with a wicked smile.
"I've been interested in this idea for a long time and have included aspects of it in some of my other work," says the producer, who wrote the Sci-Fi Channel film, "Official Denial." The genesis of the series can be traced to 1993, when Zabel was struggling through a rewrite of the movie. He received a phone call from a man he didn't know who had read the original teleplay and had a problem with the ending. Zabel says that though his initial impulse was to hang up, something in the man's voice convinced him to listen.
"This guy claimed to have been a field operative for Majestic-12 in the early '60s," he offers. "That kind of intrigued me, so I met with him and he became one of my sources for this. His angle was that he thought the time to get the truth out had arrived. Because the disinformation campaign had worked for a number of years, using fiction to get the truth out was the best way to not put people at risk."
Zabel says he asked the man for proof of his identity and for evidence of his involvement with Majestic-12; none was forthcoming. Still, what the man had to say -- regardless of whether he was a crank, a figment of Zabel's fevered imagination or the real deal -- proved valuable to the TV producer.
"First, he said that the Roswell situation was true and that it happened pretty much as [UFO theorists believe it did], and that as a result Majestic-12 was formed," he says. "He told me something else that I had not heard, which was that in December of 1960, following the election where Kennedy had defeated Nixon, President Eisenhower -- who had been briefed about Majestic-12 -- had signed an executive order that the directors of MJ-12 could brief future presidents at their discretion, because Ike didn't trust Nixon or Kennedy. According to this guy, they didn't tell Kennedy, which is what we build the story around."
That spin has intrigued just about everyone who has read Zabel's script for the premiere episode, including director Tobe Hooper. Best known for his big-screen horror efforts such as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "Poltergeist", and "Lifeforce," Hooper has carved out a new career for himself in recent years as a director for the small screen.
"The pilot script just blew me away," admits Hooper. "This isn't a horror film. It's about real people and an experience that -- who knows? -- could be true."
It was the intelligence of the script and the show's premise, says actor Eric Close, that attracted him to the project. "What I like about this show is the endless possibilities it raises. This script takes a unique look at history. In fact, my favorite scene in the whole pilot was when Bobby Kennedy and I were walking along the Potomac River and we're talking about the material I sent to his brother. It was incredible to shoot that because I really felt as though I had stepped back in time. Plus this actor, James Kelley, had the accent and sort of looked like a Kennedy. I'm sitting there thinking, 'Man, I really am with Bobby Kennedy.' It was a real highlight of the show."
Like other shows with dark conspiracy themes, the government is made up of both white hats and black hats -- but the black hats distinctly have the advantage. Frank Bach, however, is something that's a little more unusual in TV-Land: a gray hat.
"What's particularly interesting about the Bach character is that he's morally ambiguous," says Zabel. "John Loengard believes that people have a right to know, while Frank Bach believes that people can't handle the truth. These are both good points of view. Either one could be right. What makes it so interesting is that it is a good fight. Bach's feeling is, 'I'm a soldier in a war and people die in wars. I have been charged by my country with the solemn duty to protect it from this unthinkable menace and, by God, I'm going to do it with all the resources I have available to me. If you don't want a warrior to fight your wars, you're in serious trouble.' I think the relationship between Bach and Loengard is a twisted father-and-son relationship, I think [it's] going to make the J.R. Ewing of the '90s." Adds Hooper, "There's a moment in the pilot when Bach finally loses his cool and it's almost like Olivier when he has a confrontation with Spartacus. When you see a powerful man finally losing it, it really humanizes him. The character has an interesting dichotomy to him."
The dichotomy Bryce Zabel is currently struggling with is the chasm between his and co-creator Brent Friedman's vision and that of NBC. Though open to the collaborative process, he is fearful of allowing too many alterations to "conventionalize" the series. The "X-Files," he notes, took a full season to become a hit, and part of the reason the show struck a chord with the public is that it was unlike any other series on the air."
"In a sense, we're struggling for the soul of the series," he says. "What's really important to Brent and I is that we want to create an internally consistent world so that the fans don't feel toyed with. We don't want people to think we're just making it up as we go along, because we're not. We have a grand plan, and we think it's a pretty fun ride and we want to take people on it."
With NBC heavily promoting the series, everyone involved believes that "Dark Skies" will quickly gain an audience when it begins its run in August, and Zabel is convinced that by working within reality-based conspiracy theories the show will keep viewers tuned in.
"The Kennedy assassination was a cover-up, as was Roswell, as was Watergate," Zabel opines. "There are many situations where we're told one thing and another thing is going on. Almost anything is plausible. The interesting thing is you may not be able to prove that UFOs are true, based on available evidence, but you can almost prove that a cover-up is in existence. If you can prove a cover-up, then maybe the truth is stranger than you might expect; maybe something worthy of disinformation is out there. So if you believe in your heart of hearts that a spacecraft crashed in Roswell, N.M., in 1947, and the evidence is relatively strong that something happened, then all kinds of things are possible."
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