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Dean Devlin & Jonathan Glassner on what separates SYFY's ‘The Ark’ from other sci-fi shows
Life aboard the Ark One is certainly a pressure cooker.
After The Ark's WonderCon 2023 panel this weekend, creator/co-showrunner Dean Devlin (Stargate, Independence Day) and co-showrunner Jonathan Glassner (Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits) sat down with SYFY WIRE to delve even deeper into the new deep space series.
After tonight's episode (airing on SYFY at 10 p.m. ET and streaming the next day on Peacock), we've only got three episodes left in the premiere season, and the Ark One, the generation ship carrying what's left of its hopeful crew, is nowhere near it's target planet. It's going to take superhuman efforts from the survivors, now thrust into unexplored positions of power and leadership, to keep the ship afloat, both metaphorically and literally. So of course we asked the showrunners, both of whom know about as much about our kind of sci-fi as anyone, about what we can expect as the finale gravitates ever closer.
Can you tease what fans can expect in the last four episodes as we head towards the season finale?
Dean Devlin: Surprises! Comedy! Drama! Melodrama! And a little bit of music.
Jonathan Glassner: There really are a lot of twists and turns, some of which they might expect, and some I guarantee they won’t see coming.
Have you thought about a Season 2 yet?
JG: We’ve thought about it, yeah. Yeah, we’ve started batting ideas around, waiting for the network to pull the trigger so we can start on it.
DD: But you know, Jonathan and I talked about this very early on: we don’t like it when a show overstays its welcome and just goes on too long. So we made a plan: 18 seasons, and then that’s it, then we pull the plug, no matter how much people want more, that’s it, just 18 seasons.
Why is SYFY the perfect home for this show?
JG: The name right there kind of says it. It’s the home of science fiction, and that’s what we are. And they seem to like the kind of stuff we’re doing these days, the more fun, lighthearted [fare]… you know if you look at the shows they’ve got on, that are the original shows, they’re exactly what we’re doing.
DD: And there’s a legacy, I think. People who really love the SYFY channel, whether it was Stargate, or when they brought back Battlestar Gallactica… if you love real classic science fiction, the kind of stuff that Jonathan and I fell in love with, our show is a love letter to those kind of shows, so to get to be on the same platform, it just felt like home.
What were those initial shows that you fell in love with?
JG: For me it was Star Trek, the original, the OG. And then The Next Generation, as I got older, kept me there. And I enjoyed Battlestar, both the new and the old. Twilight Zone was probably my absolute favorite show ever, but that’s not really in the same… well, it’s sort of the same genre.
DD: Space: 1999 was a great one.
JG: You know, I never saw that.
DD: Oh, I would love that one.
It's streaming now on Peacock!
JG: Is it? Oh, I have to watch it.
DD: And then there was a Saturday morning show that I think only lasted two seasons called Space Academy, that was also one that I fell in love with.
For a show that has the premise where the Earth is inhospitable, how do you keep it light? Optimistic?
JG: Character. If the characters are optimistic people and people who have that spirit, then it’s gonna keep it light.
DD: One of the things that’s remarkable about humans is our ability to adapt. I’m old enough to remember that when we landed on the Moon, the entire world came to a stop, I mean everywhere, everyone was glued to their TV sets, watching the first man walk on the Moon. When the second man walked on the Moon, no one paid any attention. It was like, "Oh yeah, we walk on the Moon." It seems shocking, but that’s how we are. We move on. We deal with whatever it is that we have to deal with, and then we move on to the next thing. And so, yeah, I think even in a time of enormous crises, yes we’ll mourn, we’ll have real serious emotions about it, we’ll probably have some trauma that we’ll have to deal with, but we’ll move on. Because humans are the most adaptable creatures that have ever existed.
JG: What’s the point of fighting for your life if your life isn’t any fun, any good, anyway? I think that’s kind of the attitude our characters have.
How much do you let the characters drive the show? You have your plan, but how much does it veer as you get to know these characters more?
DD: I think everything is in service to the characters. The characters come first. We talked about that from the first time we met, that this show is about these people, and any kind of crisis has to be there to exposit who they are. So we never want to do an action sequence or a crisis just for the sake of it, we always wanted it to reveal something about the people, so that you learn more about them by the way they dealt with that crisis.
What makes this series unique to the genre?
DD: For me it’s the fact that the ship is not being run by the trained crew or the experts who studied for years and years, that these are all people who have potential to be leaders, but they’ve never led; they have potential to be engineers, but they’ve never been the engineer. So everybody has to kind of evolve into the best version of themselves, at enormous speed, and the risk of failure is the loss of life.
So to me, I think that’s a little bit different. Usually you see a spaceship and the captain has been a captain forever, and the big warrior hero, or the politician, or the scientist who invented everything. So I think the fun of this is: can these people deal with the stress and the fear of performance, when they’ve never done it before?
Was that the germ of the idea?
At what point in your development did you say, “Oh, I’ve got it!”?
DD: That was the very first idea when I thought, “If I get to work on my spaceship show, what separates it?” And that kind of Lord of the Flies angle for me got me really excited. And I know that that was the first thing that [Jonathan] got excited about once we started talking. It’s like, how is this not just another Star Trek or a Battlestar Gallactica, what is the thing? And once we started leaning into that, it got really interesting.
For instance, I play tennis. The first time I actually played in a match, I was horrible. I was terrible. The fear! It was a whole new thing. So we’ve got these people who, yeah, they’ve studied horticulture, they’ve studied navigation, but they’ve never had to be that person. And now they have to be, and if they screw up, everybody dies. So that pressure cooker, that intensity is, again, another way that you reveal character. Because how we function under stress tells a lot about who we are.