“Star Trek” alumnus Zachary Quinto is following in Leonard Nimoy’s footsteps once again as host and executive producer of History’s “In Search of” reboot. But free of Spock’s iconic makeup and “Live long and prosper” catchphrase, Quinto is taking full creative liberty to make the new intimation entirely his own.
Each episode of the docu-series explores unexplained conspiracies and phenomena with Quinto at the helm, collecting info from various expert and amateur sources firsthand.
Ahead of the series premiere, which bows July 20, Quinto talks with Variety about his personal in the exploration for alien life and how working on the show affected his beliefs about what might be living beyond our line of sight.
How much inspiration did you take from Nimoy and the original “In Search of” series when developing the reboot?
I wanted to pay homage to the original series to a certain extent, but it was important for me to move in a new direction and make sure that it was filtered through my perspective. When they originally asked me about the idea, I was open to it. There was a little bit of trepidation about stepping into something that was also so associated with Leonard, having had that experience already with the “Trek” franchise. But we were so close the last decade of his life, and he was such an important figure in my life, and I was always so inspired by his spirit of curiosity and openness and interest in the world around him — and what lies beyond that world. I felt like it was an opportunity to honor his legacy and to stay connected with him, in a way, even though he’s gone. And then from that point, I thought, well there are a handful of prerequisite criteria that are gonna be important for me in order to move forward with it. Whereas Leonard was the host of “In Search of” in a very traditional way — welcoming the audience in from a studio, oftentimes in a sort of blazer and turtleneck vibe, and then handing it off to a prerecorded segment that delved into whatever topic they were exploring — I wanted to be on the ground. I wanted to have the audience’s experience of the show be firsthand and through my eyes, and so that was number one. I wanted to be on the ground; I wanted to travel; I wanted to conduct interviews myself, and I was grateful that my partners at Propagate [Content] and Fremantle and Universal were open to that. That was the launching point, and then — in terms of partnering with History and figuring out what searches we were going to embark upon — that became a different conversation about how much do we want to honor where the show came from, and how much do we want to take it in a new direction.
Why did you feel it was important to include your own personal opinions on the topics the show explores?
It was important for me, as we were exploring these interviews and these stories, that we have a dialogue. Because I wanted the experience of the audience to be firsthand through my eyes, it was important to include that. As we were discovering the format with Eddie Schmidt — who is our showrunner and who directed all the episodes and who I worked closely with — to decide on the look of the show, the presentation of the show. He was an incredible collaborative partner. I enjoyed the process of working with him. He and I discussed what — in TV and documentary processes — is called OTFs, on the fly, kind of talking directly to the camera, and I said, “Let’s do this so that you have it,” and then it became an important hallmark of checking in and seeing how things are landing and seeing how I’m responding to some of these unexplained and, in some cases unsubstantiated, experiences that some of the people that we’re talking to have had.
The pilot deals with the possibility of alien life on Earth, which has been done before on docu-series. What did you discuss in terms of how you could make this show stand out?
The format of this show eventually emerged as a convergence between scientific perspective and human experience, and so that was the template the emerged from the conversations we were having about formatting the show. Of course, these are age-old questions in many ways, and we went into this wanting to ask the questions in a new way and wanting to present them in a way that brings a unique experience for the audience, and so I was comfortable with the idea of coming at it from the scientific side of things and then also counterbalancing that with the experience people who are not scientifically-minded, but who have had their own perspectives on these unique and unexpected phenomena.
Was there anything you found that surprised you or changed your mind?
There was a lot of expansion in my ideas of things. There were times when — I wouldn’t say my mind was changed entirely — but I will say my perspective was broadened. My mind was opened in ways. I would say it was opened more than changed, if that makes sense. The aliens episode is a prime example. In addition to the incredible astrophysicists and scientists we met at the Green Bank Observatory in rural West Virginia, who were utilizing the world’s largest radio telescope to locate signals in our galaxy and beyond that could be generated by extraterrestrial civilizations, we also spoke with people who claim to have had personal experiences with alien visitation, extraterrestrial abductions, and that’s always a difficult landscape to navigate because I don’t want to be judgmental of people. I don’t want to invalidate what they’re saying, but these are far-fetched experiences, and yet the interesting thing is that the three people we selected and interviewed — none of them knew each other, none of them had ever met and none of them knew each other’s stories — and yet there were incredible similarities between their alleged experiences and details that were shockingly in line with one another. And while none of them were able to actually provide concrete evidence that what has happened to them can be directly linked to actual extraterrestrials, it gave me pause. I went into the experience with a healthy skepticism, and I came out of it saying, “How weird is that?” It doesn’t give me concrete evidence, but it also goes at least a step or two further toward saying there’s something there. I don’t know what it is. But there’s something in the similarities in the details of their stories that overlaps.
How is it different meeting these people firsthand versus just reading about people’s alleged experiences?
It’s a unique kind of experience, and in some ways a unique challenge, to give people an opportunity to tell their story, and I learned very quickly in this process that objectivity and neutrality was my responsibility, and not necessarily relaying my personal beliefs or opinions on top of what they’re saying, but just giving them a forum to discuss what they’ve been through.
What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
This show is about asking questions — asking big questions — and going into it knowing that it’s not about the answers. If it was about the answers, I feel like the show wouldn’t exist because we would know what we’re looking for. We’re tackling big issues. We’re tackling broad spectrum, unknown, unexplained phenomena and mysteries, and there’s something timeless about that. So I feel like the curiosity and the openness to embracing things that we can’t fully explain or that we can’t know about is certainly the spirit with which we made the show, and I would say that’s what I hope audiences are able to connect with and take away.