By MICHAEL SCHNEIDER – Variety.com
Sci Fi is developing a new take on “Alien Nation,” the 1988 feature that previously spawned a spinoff series on Fox.
“Angel” alum Tim Minear — no stranger to sci-fi tales, having worked on “The X-Files,” “Firefly” and “Strange World” — is penning the fresh take on the franchise. Fox 21, the alternative production arm of 20th Century Fox TV, will produce.
“Alien Nation” centers on the partnership between a veteran cop and his alien detective partner, set against the larger tale of alien “newcomers” who move to Earth and attempt to assimilate into society.
Fox 21 topper Chris Carlisle said he believed “Alien Nation” could rep the next franchise revival for Sci Fi, which found huge success in dusting off “Battlestar Galactica” and reworking it for today’s auds. Carlisle said “Alien Nation” works both as a sci-fi piece and a procedural drama.
“It’s absolute perfect timing for this type of show,” Carlisle said. “They’re looking for more grounded sci-fi and close-ended episodes, and at the heart of ‘Alien Nation,’ it’s a cop movie. It’s grounded. And it has a tremendous amount of dramatic possibilities and humor.”
Sci Fi is also looking to broaden its footprint, as it preps to rebrand itself as “Syfy” next week.
“It’s very much in keeping with what we’ve been looking to do — find themes that are more than just hard sci-fi, something that feels contemporary and relevant and invites a broad audience in,” said Sci Fi original programming exec VP Mark Stern.
The new “Alien Nation” would include a mythology that evolves over time and will also touch on some of the issues of the day, such as the immigrant experience and how society integrates an incoming culture.
“It’s genre mixed with procedural mixed with funny and mixed with big, giant scary,” Minear said. “I love serialized stuff, but this is also a cop franchise. That ‘Starsky and Hutch’/'Lethal Weapon’ buddy cop comedy is absent from TV right now.”
Minear is currently busy outlining the “Alien Nation” script and mapping out the project’s mythology. The new “Alien Nation” will likely take place in the Pacific Northwest, and will take place about 20 years after the first ship of aliens – who have been banished as slaves – crash lands into Earth.
By the time the show begins, some time in the 2020s, the alien population has multiplied from a few thousand to 3.5 million. And much of the “newcomers” live their own segregated existence, in what Minear compares to the North African ghettos in France.
“You can take (the original ‘Alien Nation’) a step forward and really do a show that encompasses the clash of civilizations, and the idea of a ghettoized minority,” he said. ”You can touch on racism, terrorism, assimilation, immigration. And there’s room for satire.”
The original film, which took place in 1991, was helmed by Graham Baker and written by Rockne S. O’Bannon (with an uncredited revise by James Cameron). Mandy Patinkin and James Caan starred as alien cop Sam Francisco and his reluctant human partner, respectively; Terence Stamp also starred.
In 1989, 20th Century Fox TV and Kenneth Johnson Prods. adapted the movie for Fox, with Eric Pierpoint and Gary Graham in the lead roles. The show lasted just a single season but spawned a series of books.
The TV show was revived in 1994 as a series of telepics for Fox, starting with “Alien Nation: Dark Horizon.” Five TV movies were ultimately aired; the last, “Alien Nation: The Udara Legacy,” ran in 1997.
Stern said Sci Fi had been looking at “Alien Nation” as a potential franchise for several years and had talked to several writers about ways to update the concept for modern auds.
“The challenge is how do you do it in a way that will reinvent it without it feeling like a derivative rehash,” he said. “We sat down with Tim, who is someone we’d been looking to work with for quite a while, and his approach felt like it wouldn’t be a traditional adaptation. We got excited.”
Minear said he’d been anxious to develop for cable – and in particular, Sci Fi. The success of “Battlestar” fueled his interest in reviving “Alien Nation,” he said.
“Twenty years (after ‘Alien Nation’), TV as a whole has evolved, and you can explore issues and go deeper with subject matter than you ever could before,” Minear said. “On cable, you can play with ambiguity. This is a place I want to be.”