Whether ABC’s frosh drama “V” succeeds or fails, Kenny Johnson is just happy to see the show back on the pop culture radar.
Johnson has technically nothing to do with the new sci-fi drama, which bows this week and comes from exec producers Scott Peters, Jeffrey Bell, Steve Pearlman and Jace Hall.
But as the creator of the original “V” miniseries in 1983, Johnson knows interest in the new “V” will also spur nostalgia for his original. And Johnson, who didn’t retain TV rights to the title, still has big feature plans for his own “V” remake.
“If the show succeeds, it gives us an opportunity to go out with a one sheet that says, ‘You like the show, now see the original classic reborn,’ ” Johnson says. “And if the show doesn’t do well, we can always say, ‘Here is the “V” you’ve been waiting for.’ ”
“V” reps the latest franchise reborn from a Kenneth Johnson Prods. creation. The scribe has watched in recent years as many of his old smallscreen creations have been given new life, but without his involvement.
Johnson was behind several smallscreen titles that remain iconic TV touchstones: “The Bionic Woman,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “V” and “Alien Nation” (which Johnson adapted from a previous feature).
“Someone pointed out to me that I was now four for four,” Johnson says. “It’s flattering, wonderful to know that things I’ve created have staying power.”
The first two updates, however, have so far missed the mark, while the jury’s still out on the other two.
“Bionic” was given an ill-fated NBC makeover, while “Hulk” turned into two lukewarm box office features. Syfy is plotting another take on “Alien Nation.”
And then there’s “V,” which bows Nov. 3 and will run for four weeks before disappearing and then returning in the spring.
Among all his original programs, Johnson says he still receives the most attention for “V.”
“Of all the emails I get, ‘V’ is head and shoulders above the rest,” he says. “So many people tell me they first saw ‘V’ when they were 10 or 12 and they loved the action, the spaceships. Then they saw it again years later, and discovered that there was so much more going on there than they first realized.”
“V” wasn’t even originally about aliens, but revolved around a fascist takeover of the United States. When NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff read the first draft, he told Johnson he didn’t think viewers would understand the concept.
Hence the decision to make it about alien visitors.
“What it was really about was power and people in power,” he said. “It’s funny, when you go back and look at my original ‘V’ miniseries, there are a lot fewer special effects than people remember. … My frustration originally was I couldn’t make it look the way I wanted it to look. We didn’t have the money or even the tools.”
People still recall the lizards and the big spaceships hovering over the nation’s cities, and those two signatures also play a role in the updated “V.” That’s why Johnson grew concerned when his credit on the revival went to Writers’ Guild arbitration.
Johnson feared that he was being completely iced out of the revival, while Warner Bros. TV says there was a misunderstanding — claiming the plan was to simply make sure they identified the legally acceptable credit for Johnson (and avoid a skirmish down the road).
The Writers Guild opted to give Johnson a “created by” credit, and everyone appears to have moved on.
“None of us would be here without Ken Johnson, who did the original ‘V’ miniseries, which was obviously a phenomenal success,” Peters says. “So we owe a lot to him. In that vein, we wanted to make sure as we moved forward that we made sure that we honored and respected the characters and the themes that that show envisioned and tried not to step on those and introduced brand new characters and brand new themes that would make sense in a post-9/11 world. So it’s really an honor to be able to take the story forward. We’re hoping to bring a whole new set of fans as well as the folks who watched it originally.”
Johnson may still prove to be a slight nuisance for Warner Bros. TV, as he pushes ahead with a rival “V” project for the bigscreen.
“When I discovered that I controlled the motion picture rights to ‘V,’ I suddenly had a lot of new best friends,” Johnson says. “All the major studios, Fox, Paramount, MGM, Warners, wanted to buy the rights with a whole lot of money. They see it as a $200 million tentpole picture, and want to bring someone else to direct. I took a deep breath and said no.”
Since he’s watched his smallscreen creations take new life without his involvement, Johnson isn’t interested in letting “V” go.
“I got into the business to direct and do what I do,” Johnson says. “So what we’ve been endeavoring to do is to set up an independent production and produce this movie for $50 million. So I can hang on to the director reins and make sure it gets done.”
Johnson dismisses concerns that viewers might be confused over two separate “V” franchises at the same time. He notes that “Star Trek” has existed with different worlds on TV and in film at the same time — ditto “Smallville” on TV and “Superman” on the bigscreen.
“I certainly wish Jace Hall and Scott Peters well on their series,” he says. “They’ve been respectful of me and my original work and that’s rewarding in itself.”
But Johnson’s also eager to revisit “V” the way he wanted to make it.
“There’s a sense that not only do I know the themes, but it’s also because I’ve had that one on one connection with the audience over the years,” he says. “I really listened to them and have got a pretty good sense of how to make ‘V’ work.”