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Dark Skies

“It just came to us — what if we fused the two greatest conspiracies of all time together?  We came up with the Unified Field Theory of conspiracy — who killed JFK and why, and whether Roswell was a real event or not.  The essence of the series is that John Kennedy was assassinated because he was going to tell the truth about UFO’s in his second term.”
–Bryce Zabel, co-creator of Dark Skies

There has always been a fringe element of society known as “Conspiracy Theorists”.   The type of people who think that everything is interconnected; that some faceless and nameless “shadow organization” is pulling the strings and controlling humanity.  Whether it’s the Illuminati or Men in Black, there is always someone just behind the curtain manipulating people and events for their own ends.

But what if that “someone” wasn’t human?

Watching the skies -- John Loengard and Kimberley Sayres

In the 1996 series Dark Skies, John Loengard (Eric Close) and his girlfriend Kimberley Sayres (Megan Ward) arrive in Washington D.C. in 1961, full of the dreams of young people about to change the world.  Kimberley actually works for the Kennedy administration, while John becomes an aide to a Congressman.  While performing his duties, John stumbles upon evidence of a UFO… and after being attacked by a mysterious stranger and losing the evidence, he tracks down the organization the man belongs to, code-named Majestic-12.  It turns out that Majestic-12 and its leader, Captain Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh), have been secretly covering up evidence of aliens since Roswell in 1947.  Why?  Because the alien “Hive” are trying, slowly, to infiltrate the human race.  Once the Hive have reached a certain threshold, they will be powerful enough to create a “group” mind and take over everyone and everything.  And telling the public now will not only create panic and disorder, but it might force the Hive’s hand and end up in the destruction of the human race.

So, we have the Government, we have the Hive (and apparently another alien race, the Greys, whom they’ve taken over previously), we have the secretive Majestic-12, and we have John and Kimberley.  All have their own points of view on what should be done concerning the alien threat and how much the public should know (if anything).  Plus, all of them are trying to keep their own secrets for their own reasons, and changing (or being forced to change) their alliances with each other.

This is why conspiracy theorists are typically wrong.  It just gets too complicated.  But Dark Skies, as originally conceived, was a complicated idea to begin with.

“We wrote an ultra-classified briefing book, and it had a gold foil seal to bind it together.  We put it in a brown paper wrapper marked ‘Confidential.’  Inside it, not only did we lay out the concept of the series, but the first five seasons as well.  We included a timeline that was 85 pages long, going from 75 million B.C. to 2001 A.D.  We showed pretty definitively where the show was going.”
–Bryce Zabel

In this presentation of Dark Skies to NBC, Zabel and his writing partner Brent Friedman conceived of one of the most audacious premises of a TV series ever, with one simple idea:  History as we know it is a lie.  Almost all significant modern events, from the Roswell landing in 1947 onward, were influenced by an unseen “war” against alien invaders who were trying to take over humanity, bit by bit, and what we know as “historical fact” was anything but.  For example, the famous Beatles telecast on The Ed Sullivan Show was actually going to be used by the Hive to broadcast subliminal messages.  The fires of the Watts riots in Los Angeles weren’t racially motivated; they actually were set to burn down a hospital that was being used by the aliens for experiments.  The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was actually an attack led by (then Major) Colin Powell against the Russians, not knowing that the “black ops” group the Americans were sent to stop were ACTUALLY fighting the aliens, and not the United States.

Confused yet?  It made more sense on TV, but still, it’s like looking at the panorama of recent history through a prism lens…  things are somewhat recognizable, but not as we know them.  And that was the point.

It’s comparatively easy to make up a show out of whole cloth, with a back-story for characters that is totally fictional.  It’s quite another thing to make it blend in with history as we know it, and tell a fictional story BEHIND the real one.  Zabel took that one step further yet, with his five-year show plan.

“We start the series in the ’60s and stay there the whole first season, then reach the ’70s in our second year, and move faster from there so we can catch up with reality by December 31, 1999.  The show and reality will synchronize on the eve of the millennium, when we’re going to say a very important event is happening.”
–Bryce Zabel

The only show that had ever even TRIED a detailed “five-year plan” before was the syndicated production of Babylon 5, and it was a much cheaper show to produce.  B5 also came with a mythology all its own, and not one that had to legally clear almost every reference it ever made to ANY figure or event in the past.  Dark Skies was a demanding (and confusing) show to do, and there were also questions about “aging” its stars for future seasons, as well as budget problems brought about by reshoots of complicated special effects and numerous physical effects involving the Hive and their “infection” of the human race.

Dark Skies ultimately only ran one season, and even during that there were creative roadblocks and decisions that would affect the series significantly.  At mid-season, a new regular character was introduced, Juliet Stuart (Jeri Lynn Ryan), an operative of the Russian version of Majestic-12 and another romantic interest for Loengard.  Girlfriend Kimberley became pregnant in the storyline, and then was somewhat co-opted by the Hive, creating conflict for the good-guy Loengard, but making one of the original lead “heroes” of the series into a victim and an enemy.  Other than Loengard, audiences didn’t necessarily know who to cheer for, and that just muddied the murky conspiracy waters even more.  And Loengard himself was sometimes working with Majestic-12, and sometimes against them, not always sure of where the side of “right’ was.

Complicated conspiracies will do that to you.

The Hive, using Greys, experimenting on humanity. It's complicated.

While it was fun to see the multiple ways in which history was supposedly “influenced” by the battle against the Hive, Dark Skies and its magical history tour ended, still stuck in the ’60s, in the Spring of ’97.  The show simply didn’t pull high enough ratings, especially in its scheduled time slot on Saturday nights.  Networks currently no longer schedule new shows on Saturday nights, because not enough people are watching network television then to make the programming worthwhile.  While this phenomenon didn’t start until the mid-2000’s, audiences were already deteriorating in the late ’90s on Saturdays, and viewership of SF programming even more so.  The secret war against the Hive was over, its ending unknown to the public at large.

ERIC CLOSE (John Loengard) has been in a number of one- and two-season series, and will likely show up in this blog again sooner rather than later.  He starred in the series McKenna, Sisters, Now and Again, and the western The Magnificent Seven, before finally landing an extended gig on Without a Trace.

Before Dark Skies, MEGAN WARD (Kimberley Sayres) had a recurring role on both Party of Five and Class of ’96.  Following her alien hunting, she went on to appear in numerous guest shots on television, and as a regular in the original Melrose Place, Boomtown, and Sleeper Cell.  She has been a regular/recurring character on the soap General Hospital since 2007.

J. T. WALSH (Captain Frank Bach) was primarily a movie actor, best known for his appearances as a bad guy in Hoffa, A Few Good Men, Good Morning Vietnam, and Pleasantville.  He was so good as the proverbial bad guy that Playboy magazine once dubbed him “everyone’s favorite scumbag”.  He died of a heart attack in 1998.

JERI LYNN RYAN (Juliet Stuart) is the actress most likely to be cast in the middle of a series run.  After their start, she joined Star Trek: Voyager (as Borg Seven of Nine), Boston Public, The O.C., Boston Legal, and Leverage in regular roles.  She finally joined a series at the beginning (but not at the end) in Shark, and will be seen in the new Dana Delany series Body of Proof this fall.  She is also the co-owner of a trendy French restaurant in L.A., Ortolan, with her husband, French chef Christophe Eme

At one time a CNN correspondent, BRYCE ZABEL also produced or created Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, M.A.N.T.I.S., and The Crow: Stairway to Heaven.  He is a past chairman of The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (the organization that gives out the Emmy Awards), and most recently he and his wife Jackie have written movies for Hallmark, including the critically acclaimed Chasing a Dream.

AUGUST MAJOR UPDATE:  Shout Factory has just announced that DARK SKIES WILL be released on DVD in January 2011.  The music has all been cleared, and there WILL be extras!!  Further developments to follow as we get closer to the release, but celebrate anyway!!!

Dark Skies has not been will be released on DVD, although it’s not for lack of trying.  (The trying finally succeeded.  January 2011.  Ed.-Tim). First Sony (who actually announced a release in 2007), then other companies, tried to secure its release, but the costs for the ’60’s period music proved just too high.  That’s what happens when you use The Beatles and Jim Morrison as characters in your show.  Bryce Zabel has said on his website that he’d try to tell the story at some point, to finish the “five-year plan”, but it has yet to materialize.  The best SHORT explanation of the complicated alien storyline is actually on the show’s Wikipedia site, where you can find out more about the Hive, the Greys, and their methods of infiltration.  But if you REALLY want more info, I suggest the text-heavy Dark Skies FAQ that goes into tremendous detail of what we know about what happened on the show, and information and trivia galore.

Interestingly, the existence of Dark Skies itself as a television show (presenting a fictionalized version of the “actual” truth) was going to be referenced as part of the psuedo-history that Zabel had created for the show, once the timeline had reached the 1990’s.  As Zabel said:

“When Dark Skies is created, it begins to cause the public to talk about what’s really going on.  So, in our master plan, the public becomes aware of the disturbing truth by New Year’s Eve, 1999.”

Of course, the series never made it that far.  But then, can we really be sure that the reason for the cancellation of Dark Skies was just low ratings?  Or was there something deeper, darker, and more sinister at work here?  Could it have been the shadowy hand of Majestic-12?  Perhaps it was the Hive themselves who were worried about their discovery, and canceling Dark Skies early would simply leave it as a footnote in television history instead of the warning call for the end of the human race that the series was meant to be.  Perhaps the leadership of NBC, and maybe all of television, had been infiltrated and taken over by aliens, bent on their own mysterious purpose….

That, of course, could never happen.  Although it would explain why good shows die so soon… so maybe there is a conspiracy behind this after all.  I have this theory….

Vital Stats

2-hour pilot and 19 hour episodes aired — no unaired episodes exist
NBC Network
First Aired episode: September 21, 1996
Last Aired episode:  May 31, 1997, although the show was actually canceled in March, with two remaining episodes “burned off” in May, simply to recoup some of the costs of making them.
Aired Friday 8/7 Central?  No.  Its regular slot was Saturdays at 8/7 Central, although it was frequently preempted during its run.

Comments and suggestion welcome as always.

–Tim R.

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