Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dark Skies to be De-classified on DVD

My buddy in California, Fred, just made me aware of this interesting upcoming release.  TV Shows on DVD announces the impending "de-classification" of the 1996 NBC conspiracy/alien series, Dark Skies.

From the site:

In 1996, television audiences were introduced to John Loengard (Eric Close) and Kimberly Sayers (Megan Ward), two heroic freedom fighters charged with the unearthly task of protecting humanity against an alien infestation known as the Hive, while showing us - through their own experiences and actions - the truth behind our own recent past. Call it alternative history, or call it the unthinkable truth. Either way, call it...Dark Skies.

NBC's mid-90s scifi drama comes home to DVD at last, thanks to Shout! Factory's now-officially-scheduled release of Dark Skies - The Declassified Complete Series. This 6-disc set will land on January 18th, with every episode from the show's run including the feature-length pilot, "The Awakening". Shout! will announce the bonus material for this set at a future date, but we know they are working hard to include as many extras as possible on this long-awaited set (and yes, they are already aware that one of the items fans would love to have included is the alternate "international cut" of the pilot telefilm)...stay tuned for the final word on the supplements!

Here's my my review of the series, from a cult-tv flashback:

"Here’s a decent a science fiction TV effort from the 1990s that probably didn’t get the love it deserved during its original network broadcast. In fact, the expensive, highly-promoted Dark Skies suffered cancellation after a pilot and just nineteen hour-long episodes aired on NBC.

Variety termed Dark Skies “shamelessly derivative” of the X-Files and The Invaders, while The Skeptical Enquirer dubbed the series a “clone” of Chris Carter’s series. Entertainment Weekly noted Dark Skies boasted “amazing gall” and concluded that the sci-fi proceedings -- if not laughable -- were “at least snickerable.”

The tantalizing premise of Dark Skies is that – simply stated – American history as we have learned it and experienced it is a sham. It's nothing but a carefully-constructed confabulation. Assassinations, natural disasters, presidential elections, economic upheavals and foreign wars are all merely the cover story for something else, something far more sinister.

In particular, these turbulent events are the results of the American government’s pitched battle against a malevolent extra-terrestrial alien collective consciousness known as “The Hive.”

Battling the Hive is a dedicated, secret American military organization called SHADO.

No, just kidding.

The secret organization is “Majestic 12,” led by Captain Frank Bach (the late J.T. Walsh). Bach’s agency was formed after the Roswell encounter in 1947, and on Dark Skies it was operating well into the 1960s. Like Commander Straker before him, Bach wasn’t interested in pursuing half-measures or courtesies. His mission was to save America from evil aliens. Pure and simple. This mission made him both a patriot and a zealot.

But Bach isn’t even the central figure in the series. Rather, Dark Skies focuses on two idealistic young college graduates who have come to serve in the Kennedy Administration in Washington D.C. during the Age of Camelot: John Loengard (Eric Close) and Kim Sayers (Megan Ward).

These youngsters arrive in DC full of hope and can-do optimism, planning to make their mark on the planet...and the future. They learn in short order of secret conspiracies and corruption, both alien and human. Their discovery -- their unwitting ‘awakening’ from dreamy Camelot -- echoes a very real disillusionment and disappointment that grew up in youthful America after the Kennedy assassination and led to the Vietnam War Era. Dreams die hard.

Over the course of the series, John and Kim travel across these great United States attempting to stop the grand alien invasion plan, and occasionally curb Bach’s worst civil-liberty-crushing excesses. Various Dark Skies episodes involve the Kennedy Assassination, The Warren Commission and even the Watts riot.

On their travels, John and Kim encounter famous historical figures such as Howard Hughes (“Dreamland”), Gerald Ford (“The Warren Omission”), The Beatles (“Dark Day’s Night”) Timothy Leary (“Bloodlines”) and even alien abductees Barney and Betty Hill (“The Awakening.”)

Dark Skies producer James Parriott described the series with this phrase: “Our future’s happening in our past.”

I enjoyed that idea very much, and felt that the period-piece aspect of the series successfully differentiated Dark Skies from The X-Files. Also, Dark Skies featured a continuing enemy: the alien hive. The X-Files (beautifully) alternated between aliens, genetic freaks, serial killers and other antagonists. So I don’t necessarily view Dark Skies as a direct copy except in the most superficial matters. For instance, John and Kim “investigate” cases together like Mulder and Scully, and there’s an overriding conspiracy...

One other notable difference: Dark Skies never evidenced the sense of humor that The X-Files so intelligently cultivated. All in all, It was a rather…dour program.

Dark Skies also underwent an unnecessary cast shift about half-way through the run of twenty episodes. A pre-Seven-of-Nine Jeri Ryan joined the cast as Juliet Stuart -- a no-nonsense but very sexy Majestic agent -- starting in the episode "The Warren Omission."

Abducted by the Hive, Kim Sayers' just....disappeared. The character was all-but-abandoned for the remainder of the program's run. She returned briefly as an alien agent, but the shift never quite felt right. The casting change simply smacked of desperation: the shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic. Especially since there was incipient sexual tension between Loengard and Juliet. That facet of their relationship felt highly inappropriate, given the tragedy that had occurred to Kim, the love of Loengard's life.

Still, there's much to appreciate in Dark Skies. The idea that the sixties were so turbulent because of the Hive is one that's fun to speculate about. And also, there's a good subtext here that these alien invaders are communists. "We have no color. We have no conflict," one alien tells Loengard in an episode set in Mississippi at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

Also, the production values of Dark Skies are absolutely top-notch, and the series features the occasional harrowing horror scene (like the forced expulsion of an alien "ganglion" from a human being, during the pilot.)

Dark Skies was extremely popular in Europe in the nineties, and it developed a small but dedicated cult following here in the States.

The final episode of the series, "Bloodlines" featured a voice over narration from an elderly Leongard informing viewers that the alien menace had finally been beaten. It was a stopgap measure to be certain, a stop-gap attempt to bring some closure to a series destined never to return.

But still, you can't help but feel watching Dark Skies that there was a lot of life left in the premise, even with the wrong-headed cast changes.

After all, we haven't run out of interesting American history yet, have we?"


  1. I'm always amazed by your ability to unearth even the most obscure sci-fi TV shows.

  2. I am so stoked to for this to FINALLY come out on DVD. I remember watching the show and enjoying it. I always felt that THE X-FILES rip-off comments were so unfair. Plus, a show that had J.T. Walsh as a regular? Yes!

    Can't wait to see what kind of extras this will have.

  3. It seemed like every show that came out in the 90s with a sci-fi/conspiracy bent was an 'X-Files' rip-off or, at the very least, 'like X-Files meets, etc'.

    The only true rip off of the X-Files I've ever seen is Fringe. There is nothing wrong with shows getting inspiration (or just having bad luck/timing) from something popular AND good. If they come out with Crap My Dad Says while Shit My Dad Says is on the air. . .I can see the problem. Dark Skies, from what I'm reading, tried to differentiate itself.

    I need to check this out. Thanks JKM.

  4. Jason: Thank you...I think. We all have one special thing, I guess... :)

    J.D.: I'm excited about the DVD release as well. I remember I had some issues with Dark Skies, but overall liked it. It was unique. I wish it had been given time to grow and really find its voice. And my hero, Tobe Hooper, directed the two-hour pilot!

    Will: I agree with you about Fringe -- man, that show is a total rip-off of The X-Files. Shameless and shameful.

    Dark Skies clearly exploited the success of X-Files, but as you rightly point out, that's a whole different (and acceptable) matter.

    Thank you all for the comments...


  5. Hey John, thanks for the article (and review) on the DVD release of Dark Skies. My partner, Bryce Zabel, and I have been working behind the scenes for years to exhume this show from the Sony vaults. The extras planned for the Shout Factory release will not disappoint. One small clarification of on your post: I wouldn't categorize the addition of Jeri Ryan as "desperate," but you're not too far off. ;)

    Keep up the good work,

    Brent Friedman
    Co-creator, Dark Skies

  6. Mr. Friedman,

    Thank you for posting here.

    I am looking forward to seeing Dark Skies again after all these years (I've pre-ordered my copy!) and having the opportunity to screen it a second time! I'm intrigued by your mention of the extras too.

    I'd love to do an interview with you about the series, and the upcoming DVD release, so if you're interested in that, e-mail me Muirbusiness@yahoo.com.