Falling Skies is an upcoming sci-fi/drama on TNT about humans who must band together to survive the aftermath of an alien invasion. The series is being produced by Steven Spielberg, which has given it a certain level of instant-anticipation.
Along with the Comic-Con 2010 Falling Skies Panel, we were on hand to speak with the stars of the show, Noah Wyle (ER) and Moon Bloodgood (Terminator Salvation), along with one of the show's co-executive producers/writers, Mark Verheiden (Heroes, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica).
Falling Skies stars Wyle as a Tom Mason, a former college professor who gets thrown into the role of resistance leader after the alien invasion deals humanity a dire blow. Moon Bloodgood plays Ann Glass, a sort of pacifist pediatrician who bonds with Tom over their shared widower/widow loss, while helping to care and look after Tom's son and other members of their human resistance group in surrogate mother fashion.
It should be noted that shooting on the regular series has yet to begin (just a pilot so far) so details on character and/or storyline archs were actually being pondered by the interviewees as they were sitting there talking to us. We did learn that Steven Spielberg is "very hands on" and "gets involved in every single aspect" of developing the show, so that's some good news...
The uncertainty about the shape of Falling Skies was subtly apparent as we spoke with Verheiden (and a couple of TNT execs) about what it's like to develop a TV alien invasion drama in a landscape that's littered with similarly themed shows, such as V and the upcoming Walking Dead. I'll tell you upfront: much of what I've seen of Falling Skies or heard from Verheiden and the two lead stars makes me think that figuring out how to distinguish this project from the leagues of post-apocalyptic survival tales that have come before (or are on the air currently) is an ongoing process. Still, here's what those involved had to say at this early juncture:
Mark Verheiden: [The show is about] how you find elements of hope and elements of even happiness and joy in this world. It's not a real down show - it's gonna be an adventure show, sci-fi adventure, and it's certainly a dark place we're at, but these people they've not given up - this is not about that - this is about these guys trying to persevere. In terms of Noah's character, Tom Mason, it's about a guy who will do anything for his son - it's got a family element to it too.
For me it always starts with character first and telling interesting stories about these people. The sci-fi is important, it's a fun part of it, [but] where I like to start - when we think about it - is "could you tell this story without the trappings?" Then you can add the other end. It's important to have a strong dramatic story first, and then add all these really fun creatures and excitement of sci-fi to it. That said, sci-fi is very important.
Will this be a kind of allegorical sci-fi that deals with real-world socio/political issues, or will it stay tightly focused on the characters?
I think there are elements of allegory in anything you do in sci-fi, because you've created a world that's slightly off, and within that world you're then creating your story. One thing that we talked a lot about were [militias and resistance] and movies like The Great Escape or Saving Private Ryan and looking at how those men in those very dire circumstances pull together to fight a greater enemy - in this case an enemy that's really overpowering and really overwhelming.
In terms of allegory, though, I think you can't help but to do things that touch on societal issues - whether those societal issues are who runs things...to who's valuable and who's not valuable in a world where you're fighting an incredibly dangerous enemy. These are decisions you have to make as members of the 2nd masses - these are the decisions you have to make as a human being. Where do you sort of draw the line on what's right to hold onto of your humanity, and what you give up to fight this incredible enemy.
The main characters' pre-invasion lives are kept mysterious - will the show have Lost-style flashbacks?
MV: One thing we've talked about a lot in the writers' room is that we sort of enjoy the critique that you don't know what really happened in the actual attack. We'll have stuff that shows you some aspects of it, some different pieces, but I think the mystery of what happened is kind of interesting, because I think our guys are just as blind: they were on the ground, they didn't know what happened exactly - the had some idea, but they have to pick it up the same way I think the audience has to sort of suss out what happened during the big attack, and certainly the ramifications of what happened when [the aliens] attacked...We'll probably learn a lot about the characters from what they do and how we see them interact with certain other people.