Jesse Alexander p.2 - The End Will be Televised

Jesse Alexander on Shotgun Opera

Our two-part conversation with former Heroes co-executive producer Jesse Alexander, writer of Marvel’s upcoming Howling Commandos: Shotgun Opera concludes today. When we spoke with Alexander, he was in the middle of filming some shots for Day One, a new science fiction pilot he’s created for NBC. While we had him on the phone, we took the opportunity to talk about the upcoming series, and Alexander’s other TV work.

Day One chronicles a global catastrophe from the perspective of the residents of a southern California apartment complex. In the wake of a mysterious event that has shattered lines of communication and (literally) changed the shape of the world, the survivors must work together to both rebuild and save the Earth from a menace that might have already consumed countless other worlds…

The pilot script has been picked up for a two-hour first episode at NBC as consideration for a fall series. We had a chance to look at the script, and while we don’t want to spoil anything, we do want to say that the pilot includes plenty of action, mystery and some distinct sci-fi twists. Consider this a little teaser for what might be coming down the line.

Newsarama: Jesse, a lot of your colleagues have been doing stories at Marvel. Do you guys have kind of your own little club going on?

Jesse Alexander: Absolutely! “The Cabal,” as we call it, led by Jeph Loeb. We’ve got Aron Coleite, Joe Pokaski, and myself. I gotta say, I saw how much fun those guys were having (at Marvel), and there was no way I was going to let them hog all the joy! So when the opportunity came along, I jumped at it.

We’re all storytellers, and we all love comics, and we all go to the store on Wednesday and talk comics afterward. I’m very lucky to work with such incredible storytellers.

NRAMA: Do you have to shun Michael Green, because he’s at DC? (laughs)

JA: Absolutely, yes – any chance to shun Michael Green is a good one. (laughs) I thought Michael did a great job with his book, and he’s an amazing writer, and so prolific – the fact that he was able to get that done along with so many other things is astonishing to me.

NRAMA: I think some of you writers might have two brains and eight arms or something.

JA: The thing about it is, certainly all of those guys, is that we all love writing. Someone once said, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” So for us, it’s always about, “Yeah, I can write a comic! I can write a movie!” We’re always up for it, because it’s so much fun.

NRAMA: Now, you have a pretty close working relationship with Jeph…

JA: Yeah, Jeph is fantastic. He’s a dear, dear friend, and I love his storytelling. I’ve been a fan of his for years – the book of his I love the most, and he always teases me about it, because it’s the first one he did with Tim Sale, Challengers of the Unknown, and I love it so much.

We are just birds of a feather. We have such a great time talking story, and we have very similar takes on character, and he’s been such an amazing mentor in terms of how to lay out the story of a comic book. He really understands how art tells the story in a comic book.

He takes a lot of flack, I think unfairly, from the comic book continuity about his regard for continuity. But I think he is one of the best comic book storytellers currently working, and I think when people look at his body of work, it will really be clear how he has such an amazing grasp of comic books as a medium to tell stories through words and pictures.

NRAMA: Now, when you and Jeph left Heroes late last year, there were a lot of rumors floating around in the media. Can you comment on the departure?

JA: I can’t really comment on the departure of Jeph and I from Heroes. It was a very interesting and challenging time for both of us. We’re incredibly proud of all the work that we did for Tim Kring on Heroes and helping build the franchise. Our departure has been well-documented in many forms of media, and I can’t really comment on it other than what I’ve said in the past.

NRAMA: Understood. But you’ve got a lot of buzz going for Day One…the entertainment trades say NBC is very high on the script.

JA: Thank you so much for saying that. NBC’s incredibly excited about it, and it’s a great new adventure franchise among the lines of all those other things I’ve done. I’ve worked on Alias, Lost, and Heroes since the pilots on those shows, and now I get to create my very own genre franchise. I couldn’t be more excited about telling a story about ordinary people who keep working together to overcome extraordinary challenges.

We’ve been shooting it today – we just shot some special effects plates for the show, and it was our first day of filming, and it all went so well. I’m really confident that we’re going to make an incredible two-hour event pilot that NBC’s going to be excited about putting on their fall schedule.

NRAMA: Well, I was intrigued they were going with a two-hour pilot, because you’ve got some really elaborate action sequences in the script, and a longer length would give them some room to breathe. Overall, the script, using the old Hollywood jargon, sort of struck me as “Lost meets Cloverfield”…

JA: Absolutely. I think genre fans will find many references in the Day One franchise. There’s some Lost in there, there’s some Cloverfield in there, there’s some Battlestar... There are some references from when I was growing up. I’m from the Star Wars generation, so there’s a lot of references to Star Wars and Silent Running and Soylent Green, all the Peter Hyams movies and Mospeada, the Robotech series…

Day One is very much a labor of love, and I’ve been very lucky to have people at NBC who are supporting me in my vision, which is to take all the things I love about entertainment and put them into one franchise.

NRAMA: Having worked on so many other serialized genre shows in the past, what have you learned from them when it comes to doing your own show?

JA: Well, first of all, the serialized nature of those shows can be quite challenging. So I’m looking to do something that’s more episodic, but definitely has a serialized condition, in the way that China Beach did it.

I don’t remember if anyone remembers China Beach, but it was about a M*A*S*H unit during the Vietnam war. It told of this small group of people in the midst of a larger situation, but it wasn’t serialized, it was more episodic tales within this condition, and that’s what I’m looking for.

I think having a very clear beginning and ending is very important in television these days. Serials are working in certain forms, but it’s really challenging to do a Lost or an Alias or something like that. I think what Fringe is doing is very cool, how they’re trying to balance serialized stories with anthology stories. I still look at X-Files as a show that did that incredibly well, that had an overarching conspiracy serial and very exciting self-contained anthology episodes.

NRAMA: That comparison to China Beach is interesting, because one thing you wrote into the script is an online component where you can see this storyline playing in different places around the world while you’re focused on this specific area.

JA: Yeah. I’m really proud of how we’ve been able to innovate in this new media that’s called transmedia storytelling. I go to experiment with that on all the other shows I worked on, where we got to take the narrative of the core franchise and found ways to carry it across multiple platforms. I’m trying to take what I learned on those shows and carry it to the next level with Day One.

NRAMA: One report had an NBC executive calling Day One “an event” and looking at it as “a 13-episode run.” So do you see it more as a miniseries, or something where there’s a self-contained first season, but it could also be an ongoing story?

JA: I can’t speak to that directly. I think, looking at the language of what Angela Bromstad (president of NBC primetime entertainment) said, she meant it was going to be an event that NBC could really get behind in terms of promotion, because I don’t think she was potentially limiting us to 13 episodes. We’re not picked up yet, but we’ll shoot our pilot, and hopefully people will love it, and NBC will ask us to do more of them.

NRAMA: Any last thoughts?

JA: I hope everyone picks up Shotgun Opera. The art is spectacular, and I really poured my heart into this story. And keep your fingers crossed for Day One!

Howling Commandos: Shotgun Opera is in stores this May.

Related:

Jesse Alexander - From TV to Comics, Part One

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