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'The Ark's Dean Devlin & Jonathan Glassner on their passion to build optimistic sci-fi worlds
For the love of the genre.
In space, no one can hear you scream, but at WonderCon 2023, they have microphones for all the panelists. So over the weekend, SYFY WIRE could hear loud and clear all the goods from The Ark panel featuring creator/co-showrunner Dean Devlin (Stargate, Independence Day) and co-showrunner Jonathan Glassner (Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits).
After a preview of this Wednesday’s new Season 1 episode (airing on SYFY at 10 p.m. ET and streaming the next day on Peacock), moderator Yael Tygiel kicked things off by asking the creators to describe the show for someone who hasn’t climbed on board the Ark One yet, the generation ship upon which the young crew wakes up to disaster, only to realize they are a year out from their target planet, and no one is coming to save them.
“Obviously, it’s a show on a spaceship, but I think the thing that separates it from other shows of its ilk is that no one was supposed to be awake on this ship, they were supposed to be in cryogenic sleep until about a week before they got to their destination, but an accident, or at least they thought it was an accident, happened on the ship that ended up killing more than half the people, and the survivors were not the people who were supposed to be able to run the ship,” Devlin said. “All the leadership was killed in that accident. So this is a show of people trying to become the best versions of themselves while they’re living in a pressure cooker situation, where every decision they make is life and death.”
Glassner might also contend it’s the characters that set the show apart.
“All good writing comes out of character, not out of plot,” Glassner said. “Dean created some great characters to start out with, and then we jumped in and expanded on them and they grew into real people, at least in my head. And personally, I like spending… in my case, my whole life with them these days… but I hope the audience enjoys spending an hour every week with them and wants to invite them into their home. To me that’s what’s important is to explore them, much more than whatever they’re going to fix this week.”
Granted, there’s a heck of a lot of problems that need fixing. Which becomes all the more interesting when you think about when the show takes place, and the context around the Ark program.
“This isn’t hundreds of years in the future, it’s about 100 years in the future. And this program was started because it became apparent that there was a time clock on Earth, and there was argument over, ‘Do they have 10 years left? Do they have 70 years left?’ So all the energy went into figuring out how to get the people off the planet,” Devlin said. “But this also exists in a world where billionaires continue to take over the space industry. Where spaceships are built and owned and unregulated, that there isn’t a government to insure they do smart things, it’s whatever the billionaire wanted to do when they built their spaceships.”
All of which shapes the focus of the show’s creative decisions.
“So in a world that’s focused on that, our feeling was that things that we would be developing today would become a much lower priority,” Devlin continued. “So things like fashion, things like making a smaller and smaller iPhone, are not as important as, ‘How do we get off the planet?’ Which is where the focus was.”
When asked what the secret to their longevity is, Glassner quickly responded, “Luck.” But Devlin believes there’s more to it.
“Luck is the number one factor, but I think the number two factor is, at least in our case, is, if we weren’t sitting here talking to you, we’d be sitting there, listening to somebody else,” Devlin told the WonderCon crowd. “Because we love the kinds of shows that we make. Some people do genre entertainment so that one day they can go win an Oscar on their art house film. We have as much passion for this kind of work as Scorsese has for his films. The thing is, if you have real passion about something, there’s a chance, a possibility, that that passion can become infectious and other people will care.”
Indeed, Devlin’s optimism is infectious. And that spills over into the show itself.
“I would say that in general Johnathan and I are optimists in the face of insanity when we shouldn’t be,” Devlin said. “But we do; we have a faith in mankind, and we think that ultimately we rise to the occasion, and we wanted our show to be about that.”
“I think the biggest thing [the show] says is when humans, when they’re thrown into a situation where it’s fight or die, it’s work or die, it’s work together or die, they rise to the occasion. And that’s really sort of the theme of the whole show. It’s: these people by all accounts should not be surviving," Glassner said. "Just by their sheer grit and their trust in each other and their working together, they’re pulling it out. And not only that, but they’re living their lives, they’re not just sitting there being depressed about their situation. To me, that’s what it’s mostly about.