A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to share a few E-Mail exchanges with the great Kenneth Johnson who during the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s brought us shows such as Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, V The Mini Series, and Alien Nation.
Since the release of the first V Mini series a couple of years ago Ken has been trying to sell a continuation story idea to the studios. He recently transcribed his V The Second Generation Script into a book, which has only furthered the fan hunger for a continuation of Johnson’s original story.
Below is a short interview I conducted with Kenneth Johnson about his varied career where we discuss a few of his past projects and talk a little about his ‘V: The Second Generation’ which is a fantastic read.
SciFi Pulse: I’ve just finished reading your book ‘V The Second Generation’ which I had difficulty putting down. I liked the way in which you managed to keep the core characters in the story, but am wondering as many others are what happened to some of the other characters such as Elias who seemed to become a pretty strong character in your original mini series, and is there likely to be another book to fill in some of the events that transpired in the 20 year period such as the great purge.
“I haven’t thought about it yet, but many have suggested doing something like that.”
SciFi Pulse: The last 10 years we’ve seen a number of classic TV franchises and movies being remade by the studios. Shows such as Battlestar Galactica and most recently a remake of your creation ‘The Bionic Woman’ have been done. What are your views about this particular trend and what thoughts on ‘Bionic Woman’ that seems to have failed to retain its audience do you have.
“The new Bionic Woman sank like a rock because it didn’t resemble in any way the humanism and humor we had in the original. Nor did they have an actress like Lindsay Wagner. Everything that is a Brand Name eventually gets remade because nervous executives think that’s a way of insuring an audience. As you can see, they’re often wrong.”
SciFi Pulse: For some time now you have been trying to get a new continuation series or reboot as one Network has asked for of your classic work ‘V’. Have noticed that it is listed as actually being in production on the Internet movie database. Could you give us any updates on this.
“We are not yet in production, though we’re working hard to get V before the cameras. The imdb is more often wrong than right. See all the latest information at www.kennethjohnson.us“
SciFi Pulse: I read somewhere that you and someone else actually wrote a script for ‘V The Final Battle’ but for internal studio political reasons your version of the script and much of your story was messed with beyond recognition. One of the major things that bothered me about the televised version of Final Battle was the ending. It totally lacked any sense of suspense. The Star Child saving them all in the last 30 seconds just sucked could you tell us how your version ended.
“I haven’t looked at the script for 25 years so I don’t remember the details. Though I supervised the writing of the 6-hour sequel, I left Warners over creative differences before it was produced. To this day I have never seen it, except for one minute by accident – in which I saw them make every wrong choice possible, so I knew I’d never survive watching the entire thing. I never saw any of the series at all, but my friends who were in it said it was pretty awful and certainly missed the essence of what I had been attempting to create. There was no bullshit “Star Child” and many of the Visitors’ motherships got away – but Mike and Julie secretly flew aboard.”
SciFi Pulse: In the early 90′s you were brought in by Fox to produce a TV adaptation of the movie Alien Nation which made the bold move of changing format from buddy cop action film to a more thoughtful allegorical series which depicted real world topics. What prompted you to do that and what do you think that shows strengths were.
“I realized I could do a drama about intolerance and prejudice. The entire development process is described on the DVD commentary of my pilot.”
Sadly I do not own this particular DVD set, so I borrowed the following quotes with regards to the shows origins from Movieweb were Johnson explains most of the story.
“Well, I had created The Bionic Woman and I did The Incredible Hulk and I did V, my big epic mini-series. My friend Harris Cattleman, who was the head of Fox Television at the time, called me up and said, ‘We’ve got this movie coming out. We’d like you to take a look at it. We think there’s a series in it.’ I said, ‘Sure, Harris. I’d be happy to.’ He said, ‘It’s called Alien Nation’ and I said, ‘You know Harris, I really don’t want to see it. I’m so tired of aliens.’ I was trained in the classic theater, Brian. I went to Carnegie-Melon. We studied Sophocles and Shakespeare and Strindberg, all the classics. I’ve always been drawn to that, but you create The Bionic Woman, you create The Incredible Hulk, you do V and pretty soon you’re the sci-fi guy. I always tell my students in UCLA and USC, ‘Be careful of what your first success is, because that’s what they’ll want you to do the rest of your life.’
“I sort of walked in the screening room over at Fox with a chip on my shoulder as big as a block of ice and said, ‘O.K., show me.’ The movie came on, and I don’t know. The movie always struck me as Miami Vice with Coneheads. But there was one scene where the alien cop was waving goodbye to his wife and two little children standing on the porch. There’s only one shot of them in the movie, but when I saw that moment, Brian, the bell went off. I went back to Fox and I said, ‘You think you’ve got Lethal Weapon with aliens, right?’ They said, ‘Yeah, yeah!’ and I said ‘No, no. What you’ve got is In The Heat Of The Night. Let me do a piece about what it’s like to be the latest folks off the bus, the newest minority that arrives in town.’ That’s a show that can go on and on and on because it’s about societal conflicts.”
SciFi Pulse: If you were given the opportunity to make a cinematic movie of Hulk what approach would you take and who can you see out of today’s batch of actors best being the embodiment of the tragic character of Doctor Bruce Banner.
SciFi Pulse: You developed ‘The Incredible Hulk’ for television back in the 70′s. Was the late Bill Bixby always your first choice for the role of David Banner “YES. My one and only” – and can you tell us a little about the process you went through in order to get the show to the screen given that it was very different to the comic books and far more entertaining than that boring movie version we seen a few years back.
” It’s all described in great detail in the commentary on the DVD of my Hulk pilot.”
While listening to the commentary I learned a great deal. Certain scenes of the pilot movie were made up of stock footage, for example when the lab blows up near the end of the film, that footage was taken from ‘The Bionic Woman’ two part episode ‘Doomsday’ which Johnson also wrote and directed.
However what you get the most out of Johnson’s commentary is how much respect and admiration he had for the late Bill Bixby and the following excerpt from the DVD pretty much sums Johnson’s feelings up on the matter.
“Bix combined the qualities of solid actor and emotion and class that I was looking for to try to bring to this project that of course had its origins in Stan Lees comic book ‘The Incedible Hulk’”
SciFi Pulse: One of the characters that I enjoyed in your book ‘V The Second Generation’ was the Pop Singer Emma as well as Ruby who struck a real chord with me. Could you tell us who these two characters were based on.
“Much of Emma’s story (including the theft from the bad guys’ safe) is based on a real woman who was an American Mata Hari for the OSS during WW2. She was not, however a singer or popular figure. – Though Ruby appears to be like Charles Dickens’s Artful Dodger, she is actually more like Gavroche, Victor Hugo’s fictional child in Les Miserables, who sacrifices himself on the barricades to save his fellow revolutionaries.”
SciFi Pulse: Growing up back in the 70′s I was a huge fan of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ and the ‘Bionic Woman’ both of which you were involved with. Can you tell me a little about how you got involved with those shows?
“Steve Bochco, a classmate from Carnegie Tech, was working at Universal and introduced me to Harve Bennett who was doing 6 Mill and needed some scripts in a hurry. I wrote The BW for him and he asked me to become a producer on 6 Mill/ Then ABC asked me to spin off BW into a separate show. Like living in a garbage disposal!”
SciFi Pulse: As someone who has acted, written, produced and directed what do you think makes a good drama.
“Great characters with strong objectives facing great conflicts.”
SciFi Pulse: How much do you feel the industry of television and film has changed since you got your start in the business, and do you feel things have gotten worse or better since you began.
“It’s never been easy. Today it’s even more bottom-line oriented and there are far fewer visionary entrepreneurs like Brandon Tartikoff. – The execs are mostly former agents or other non-creative types who have never made a movie themselves.”
Written By Ian M. Cullen