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V – Executive Producer Steve Pearlman talks about re-inventing a classic genre series

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Comic Con - exec producer Steve Pearlman
Exec producer Steve Pearlman © 2011 ABC

Remaking a popular science fiction television show can be an unenviable task at the best of times. For incoming writers and producers, the challenge is to create something new and different while hopefully retaining some of the elements that made the original version so popular.

That was certainly true of V, the sci-fi action-adventure series loosely based on the 1983 mini-series about a fleet of human-looking extraterrestrials arriving on Earth under the guise of friendship only to reveal themselves as reptilian invaders trying to secure the planet’s population and resources for themselves.

The new version, which returns to ABC for a second season on January 4th, stars Morena Baccarin as ‘V’ leader Anna; and Elizabeth Mitchell as FBI agent-turned-resistance-leader Erica Evans, features many of the elements that made the original series so popular. But as executive producer Steve Pearlman explains, the new season will feature plenty of surprises for old and new viewers alike…

With such a big gap between seasons one and two, how are hoping to bring back viewers and rebuild the momentum you had following the first-season finale?

One of the things we had trouble with in the first season was that we had such a big gap in our air schedule when we were off the air, and now there’s obviously going to be another gap. Our feeling is, we’re going to come out of the starting gate very strong and the first-season DVD set will be out so the timing of that is really great in terms of the fact that people can get the DVD box set.

In terms of the show itself, we spent a lot of time when we were laying out the arcs for this season to figure out what we could do to grab people. We want to give the audience some new iconic images that they didn’t get in the first season or in the original series.

There was some sense last season that the show took a little while to find its feet. Did you go back and try to figure out what worked and what didn’t work?

V - Morris Chestnut, Laura Vandervoort, Logan Huffman, Morena Baccarin, Elizabeth Mitchell, Joel Gretsch, Scott Wolf and Charles Mesure
Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut), Lisa (Laura Vandervoort), Tyler Evans (Logan Huffman), Anna (Morena Baccarin), Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), Father Jack (Joel Gretsch), Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) and Kyle Hobbes (Charles Mesure) © 2011 ABC

We did, and the two things we came away with, that I think are most representative of the direction of the new season, was number one, when we started off in the pilot, most of our characters were not connected to one another. We had a newscaster, a priest, an FBI agent, and some Vs, so it was a challenge to get all of the characters into stories together.

By the time we got to the end of the season, we had moved the characters strategically so that we could legitimately get them into scenes together and you wouldn’t say, ‘Why are those two people in a scene together?’

We got Chad to the point where he was talking regularly to Father Jack, and we got Ryan to the point where he was talking regularly with Erica so we had strategically moved our characters into the position where we can now tell stories with them all in a room and that took the better part of a season last year to do that. You can’t just ‘jump’ that; you have to get there, so going into the second season, that is making it easier in terms of finding stories, because we can legitimately bring all our people together.

The other thing we found, just in terms of looking over the last season as far as what worked and what didn’t was when we had one episode or one story in an episode that each of our characters could bounce off of.

For example, the last two episodes of the season involved all of our characters in different ways. The second-to-last episode was the episode where Lisa was injured and Anna and Erica came together dealing with Lisa’s injury. We also had Chad reporting on it, so stories like that are much indicative of where we’re going this year.

For example the episode that we just finished shooting last week where Anna is throwing this big gala in New York City, each of our characters is bouncing off that gala in some form or another. So those are the two big things that we took away from last year in terms of moving forward this year and how we can do it better.

When you’re re-inventing a series that had been popular in the past, how different do you want the new version to be different from the original?

The thing about re-imagining a series is you want to pay tribute to the original because especially with this show, there are fans of the original that will tune in to see what we’ve done and how we’ve been loyal to the original. But there is also a whole generation of hopefully new fans that frankly weren’t even born when the original series was on the air.

So the new show has to work on its own, but it also has to pay tribute and in terms of paying tribute, we want to take certain iconic images from the original series and expand upon them. Just to redo something that was done 25 years ago is probably not going to be very satisfying to the people that remember the old show perhaps even more fondly than is warranted.

That’s not a knock on the old show; it’s just something that the memory often does to you, because you remember something a lot more fondly. So how can we take the most iconic image from the show, which is the eating of the rat, and double it, triple it, make it more exciting and different? Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to do that this year.

Do you have an eventual conclusion in mind for the series?

Comic Con - exec producer Steve Pearlman
Exec producer Steve Pearlman signing for a fan © 2011 ABC

The name of the game in series television is you hope to keep going as long as you can. I think shows like this certainly have a mythology to them, so there is a logical place or conclusion that you want to get to. The question is how much happens before you get to that place. Right now, we’re having fun telling these stories and we hope it keeps going.

Certainly one of the things you saw in shows like Lost for example, for which there have obviously been a lot of comparisons last year, is that they brought in new characters every year that changed up the storytelling. There were new adversaries, there were new allies and that’s the kind of thing that we’re doing too. We’re not doing that because Lost did it. We’re doing it because that’s what these shows do.