SAN FRANCISCO – As regular TBS and TNT viewers know, neither network is shy about promotion. Ask any baseball fan about the Frank Caliendo, George Lopez and Conan O’Brien ads that have filled seemingly every pause in the past three baseball postseasons. There’s “creating awareness” and then there’s “Turner cable creating awareness,” which is “creating awareness” to the n-th degree, right-up-to and sometimes well over the borderline of saturation.
TNT is walking that line again with “Falling Skies,” which has been so endlessly pimped for so long on the network’s NBA coverage that I have friends who are convinced it premiered months ago. The “Falling Skies” Ubiquity Campaign actually started back in July at Comic-Con. I personally received (and happily watched) the show’s first three hours before the Television Critics Association press tour in January, the TCA’s only chance to grill the cast before the summer premiere.
And on Friday (April 1), “Falling Skies” hit San Francisco’s WonderCon as the Con’s first panel in the sometimes cavernous Esplanade. One of the risks of this sort of extended-wave promotion is that by the time you get to events like Wonder-Con — with the premiere still months away — rather than filling a stage with stars and every imaginable creative force, you end up with co-executive producer Mark Verheiden, writer Melinda Hsu and co-star Drew Roy, who don’t necessarily pack a ballroom as easily as Noah Wyle, Moon Bloodgood or Steven Spielberg.
Still, the three panelists gamely answered questions, presented a handful of clips and discussed the “Falling Skies” comic book, which was passed out at the door.
Click through for some panel highlights and thoughts on the clips…
Fans entering the ballroom were all given the first 12 pages of the “Falling Sky” comic, produced through Dark Horse Comics. The art was done by Juan Ferreyra and features what could probably be called “heightened” versions of the main characters from the TV show. That means the comic’s central history professor-turned-anti-alien revolutionary still has Wyle’s nose, but maybe looks like he’s spent a bit more time in the gym than the real Noah Wyle (not that the real Noah Wyle is out of shape). The comic will be released in four-page installments on the TNT and Dark Horse website and Hsu explained that the comic will bridge some, but not all, of the gap between the alien invasion of Earth and the TV series, which stars six months after the attack. The last frame of the comic will lead directly into the first frame of the series, which is a pretty clever little trick.
The six-months-after-the-invasion gambit is one of the most important differentiators for “Falling Skies” when it comes time to compare the drama to “V” or “War of the Worlds” or even something like “Jericho.”
“I think we really wanted to do a different take on an invasion show. Look, there’s ‘Battle LA’ out right now,” noted Verheiden. “I think it’s interesting to walk in on these characters six months later, because the shock has gone away.”
Verheiden added, “It feels like a different sort of tone than the ongoing, ‘Oh my God, they’re invading’ of the normal invasion show.”
The obvious follow-up is to ask if “Falling Skies” intends on using a “Lost”-style flashback structure to show what actually occurred during that invasion.
In no uncertain terms, Hsu explained, “One of our mandates was No Flashbacks.”
She added, “We didn’t want to do the big invasion spectacle, because that’s been done before. Spielberg’s done that before.”
Of course, Verheiden was quick to add that maybe they’re saving those flashbacks for Season 8.
The screened scenes were an effective showcase of the different tones and layers of the show. It’s hard for me to put the clips out-of-context, having seen the episodes they came from.
There was one tense chase sequence with Wyle’s character and his son (played by Roy) running through a dark neighborhood attempting to evade the aliens, whose laser rays don’t appear to have any positive side-effects. The sequence, shot mostly hand-held, culminates in an early appearance by the aliens known as skitters, with their six limbs and intimidating tusks. Although you’d think a show might shy away from the inevitable limitations of CG-on-TV-budget, Verheiden said that this isn’t going to be a show that’s precious in its depiction of the antagonists.
“We never felt we wanted to be coy about the aliens… They are the threat. There’s no reason for them to hide from us,” he said.
As for the look of the aliens, part of the mandate was to craft creatures that viewers wouldn’t instantly recognize. It’s true that the “Falling Skies” aliens aren’t immediately derivative of other screen aliens, though they’re definitely somewhat derivative. But the primary mandate was to try things that might be cool.
“Sometimes ‘cool’ is the reason,” Verheiden said.
Another alien-heavy sequence featured the freedom-fighters attempting to liberate a work camp of human children serving as slaves to the invaders. The enslavement of the kids is one of the parts of the series I found most intriguing. This scene relied perhaps too heavily on daylight CGI, which is always a bigger challenge than using CGI at night. The aliens still looked pretty good, but their giant robot exoskeletons made the push into cheesiness. In the early episodes, there’s no question that the “Falling Skies” handles the human side of things better in the daytime and the aliens better at night.
Speaking of the human angle, we also got scenes with Wyle and Bloodgood’s characters flirting (militaristically) and with Roy’s character making time with kickbutt fighter Karen (Jessy Schram). It’s actually a love triangle that Roy’s Hal finds himself in.
“Throughout the season there’s several different women, or girls… We’re still living life similar to how it was before,” Roy said. “A young guy sees a cute girl and he’s going to want to talk to her. I think that’ll always been the case and I enjoyed embracing that.”
Although slightly lecherous, Roy hit on one of the main themes of “Falling Skies.” The series is about how mostly ordinary people cope with the most extraordinary and tragic circumstance imaginable and how they attempt to find kernels of normalcy.
“Our characters are trying to survive and bond with each other and figure out what’s going to keep them going as a species and as individuals,” Hsu said.
Added Roy, “In my opinion, that’s what’s really compelling about the show. And then on top of that, you have the aliens.”
Anyway, I’ll obviously be writing much more about “Falling Skies” as the show gets closer to its June 19 premiere. Like I may have indicated, I’m intrigued by the series. It’s a little “V,” a little “Jericho,” a little “Walking Dead” and a little “The Patriot.”