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Kenneth Johnson interview

Date of publishing: 12th February 2008

Kenneth Johnson interview KENNETH JOHNSON is more than an author; he has written, directed and produced dozens of movies, television shows and mini-series including titles such as The Incredible Hulk, The Bionic Woman, and Alien Nation. In 1984, his television mini-series V hit the airwaves. It was hugely successful; it was the highest rated show on NBC for two and a half years and led to the creation of a regularly scheduled television show. Johnson has been nominated for both the Writers Guild and the Edgar Awards. More information about "V: The Second Generation" can be found here: www.kennethjohnson.us/VNovel.html

Gilles Nuytens: People know you as the creator of some old classical scifi such Bionic Woman, V, Hulk, Alien Nation ... but probably less about your recent works. Except the "V" project of course, is there any other new projects you have in mind that you'd like to see become a successful new TV show?
Kenneth Johnson: No, I don't much care for TV series and for a creator-executive producer it's like living in a garbage disposal. Rarely does a project like Alien Nation or V emerge as a really wonderful possibility -- and something I'd love to do.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you think about science fiction of this past decade such Heroes, Stargate, the new Battlestar Galactica, Lost, ... ?
Kenneth Johnson: Unfortunately I haven't seen any of them. -- I spend most of my time reading or watching films.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you think are the major differences between scifi from the 70's/80's to today's scifi? What do you think has improved and what do you think has been lost?
Kenneth Johnson: Clearly the technical expertise has increased -- I hated those old "Wolfman" dissolves I had to use to get Lou Ferrigno's face to transform to Bill Bixby's. But now too often the tail wags the dog and the "effects driven" projects lose the humanity and humor that makes them human. Witness the abysmal new Bionic Woman.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you think of this new era when fans have such an influence on the writing of a character, his future or even on the story. There have been many campaigns to save characters of TV shows, even TV shows themselves (such Stargate, Jericho, ...). Some are successful, some not. What are your views on this subject?
Kenneth Johnson: 90% of fan enthusiasm is totally missed by the suits at the networks and studios -- even as it's embraced by us creative types. We had an tremendous fan campaign to save Alien Nation, but Fox "knew better" and canceled the series -- only to pay the price when their network's ratings took a major dive. -- And after two years of me pounding on the door we finally got to do a follow up movie -- which was so successful that Fox was "inspired" to buy four more. (The great box set of all five movies appears this April -- see www.kennethjohnson.us for details.)

Gilles Nuytens: What do you think of the new version of Bionic Woman? Did you take any part to it?
Kenneth Johnson: No.

Gilles Nuytens: Have you ever watched it?
Kenneth Johnson: Saw the pilot and felt they had totally missed the essence as mentioned above.

Gilles Nuytens: You said you never watched V: The series at all, and even V: The Final Battle, aren't you a bit curious to see what they have done with your "baby"?
Kenneth Johnson: No, all my friends who were involved with it said I would be horrified. And from what I heard, they were right.

Gilles Nuytens: A lot of people won't probably know that the Second Generation ignores the series and the second mini series, how are you going to make sure that everybody knows about it and won't be confused? I honestly didn't know before preparing this interview... Well I only heard about a lot of different rumors through the years (and there are many!).
Kenneth Johnson: The 2nd Gen builds upon my original concept and carries on many of those characters. I'm very happy with what I've done with it -- I hope others will be, too.

Gilles Nuytens: Character development is a big part on your approach of a TV show, and it's what makes a show successful I think, that's probably why TV series such Heroes, Lost or Galactica have such success today. We want to know what will happen to those people, each character has his own fans. Knowing that the events from V: The Final Battle and the series are ignored and so the evolution of the characters, don't you fear that the fans could be a bit disappointed by this?
Kenneth Johnson: Some will, doubtlessly, but the new spectrum of characters I've created should go a long way in helping them out. The people who have already read it and sent me e-mails (several hundred) were not disappointed.

Gilles Nuytens: The Second Generation, is it going to be the first of a series of books? Have you got already some ideas about a next chapter if it's a success?
Kenneth Johnson: Nope.

Gilles Nuytens: I did not had the opportunity to read the book yet, so I don't really know which of the characters we knew are coming back ... if the movie project has a green light from the studios, are we going to see our favorite well known faces?
Kenneth Johnson: That was always my plan. I loved working with the original team and many of them figure into the 2nd Gen.

Gilles Nuytens: Of course in the case of a remake of the first mini-series, I assume not ...
Kenneth Johnson: Never assume.

Gilles Nuytens: What are your views, plans and desires on this (if there's a remake, if not, etc.)?
Kenneth Johnson: If I can get the remake made the way I want to, then the future is bright for VTSG as I've imagined it.

Gilles Nuytens: The book is for now only in English (I believe so), are there any plans for translations in other languages?
Kenneth Johnson: Tor Books will decide.

Gilles Nuytens: Do you have any control on this?
Kenneth Johnson: Nope.

Gilles Nuytens: Now in an utopist perspective, if the studios would give you the green light for everything you want (really everything!), what would you really choose to do with V? What would be THE dream?
Kenneth Johnson: As described above... remake the original with new players, then pursue VTSG using some of the players from 1983.

Gilles Nuytens: Have you already thought about the musical aspect you'd like to get for the project?
Kenneth Johnson: Only that it will be a big classical score -- combined with a contemporary, streetsy feel.

Gilles Nuytens: As a novel writer, what would be your advices to beginners?
Kenneth Johnson: Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeead. Everything, but partcularly the classics. And history. And biography. Go to a good school and get the broadest liberal arts education possible. Study with great teachers. Listen to your fellow writers.

Gilles Nuytens: You said you reply to every single fan mail that you receive, how do you manage to reply to thousands of these mails?
Kenneth Johnson: When a person takes the time to contact me, I feel it's part of my responsibility to respond as best I can, even if I don't have time to go back and correct any typos.

Gilles Nuytens: It must be a full time job!
Kenneth Johnson: It often seems that way -- but there's nothing like being in direct contact with my audience.

Gilles Nuytens: This is something very rare and this is completely to your honor!
Kenneth Johnson: Many thanks, but I consider it to be my pleasure.

Gilles Nuytens: This strike has caused the death of many shows and put others in jeopardy, what kind of influence do you think it could have on the decision the studios could take about V?
Kenneth Johnson: None, ultimately. Just a stall.

Gilles Nuytens: Now that there isn't any deadline, has it any influence at all? And what do you think of this strike, the good and the bad aspects of it. Finally the studios are loosing a lot of money but us, the viewers are loosing our shows as well.
Kenneth Johnson: I always feel badly when people are on strike -- because it affects so very many in addition to those directly walking the picket lines. But it's the business part of show business and the writers, directors and actors got screwed in the past. Fortunately it'll likely be over by Tuesday. ...So we can get ready for the actors' strike.

Gilles Nuytens: When I first watched the trailer of the movie "Independence Day", with those ships surrounding the big cities, I immediately said in myself "what?? they are copying V!!". At least they took the idea of those big ships ... what was your reaction when you saw this? Someone once said this to me "copying is the sincerest form of flattery".
Kenneth Johnson: Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (who did Independence Day) once cornered me at an awards ceremony and said, "We've always wanted to meet you -- we've been ripping you off for years." Ha ha. We all laughed. But they were telling the truth.

Gilles Nuytens: Anything else you'd like to add or share about V?
Kenneth Johnson: V was never about spaceships and aliens -- but about Power. About its abuse, and some people who suck up to it, others who lay low hoping it won't bother them, and still others who say no this is wrong and we have to fight back. -- It's a timeless story with deep roots that go back through the American Revolution all the way to Sparticus's revolt of the slaves. -- VTSG continues that theme, but is also about Loyalty, as you'll see. -- The other surprising phenomona about V (and all of my work) is that my largest audience has always been FEMALE -- very different than the average sci-fi fan. -- I think that's because I've always been more interested in character and relationships than in visual effects.

Gilles Nuytens: And finally what do you like the most doing, directing, writing (books, scripts), producing, ... ? What are your favorite aspects for each?
Kenneth Johnson: I was a director first and always foremost. The great joy of writing a novel is that I can create, fashion and "direct" it exactly as I want, without regard for budget, time or anything but the story I want to tell to an audience.

Gilles Nuytens: V is such a memory of my youth, thank you for having put it on our screens and for bringing it back! All the best!
Kenneth Johnson: And my best to you, Gilles, thanks for caring!

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© 2008 Interview by Gilles Nuytens for The Scifi World


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