Published in


Respect | Reimagine | Reboot

Dark Skies

Growing the classic sci-fi drama into a new series franchise that shares the same creative Universe but speaks to the times we live in today.

Respect | Reimagine | Reboot

This coming September marks the 25th anniversary of the Dark Skies series debut on NBC primetime. Interest in it has never gone away among sci-fi fans or those who pay attention to the history of UFO/UAP reality.

Audiences have responded to the in-your-face Dark Skies take on historical events from the 1960s blended with UFO news and sightings from the time. Viewers appreciated how the series looked for ways to tell its own story of extraterrestrial contact within the shadows and cracks that surround that known history.

The Property

Dark Skies is an alien invasion series that mixes history with UFOs. It was the anchor series for NBC’s “Thrillogy” Saturday nights in 1996–1997. 20 hours were produced. The series was created by Bryce Zabel and Brent V. Friedman.

Dark Skies starred Eric Close (Without a Trace), Megan Ward (Sleeper Cell) and the late J.T. Walsh (Slingblade), and gave Jeri Ryan (Star Trek) her first starring role in television. It was produced by Columbia Television (now Sony) and Bryce Zabel Productions (now Stellar). The series was executive produced by James Parriott and Bryce Zabel.

The series won the Emmy for Outstanding Main Titles and the writing of the pilot was nominated by the Writers Guild for Outstanding Television Longform for the work of Bryce Zabel and Brent Friedman. The pilot was directed by ground-breaking director Tobe Hooper (Poltergeist) working with cinematographer Bob Butler (Jaws) to create a timeless historical look, using what they called “The Godfather palette.” The pilot was executive produced by Joseph Stern and Bryce Zabel.

The executive ranks supporting the show have turned into a Who’s Who of Hollywood. The NBC executives were Warren Littlefield, David Nevins, and John Landgraf. The Sony executives were Jeff Sagansky, Jeff Wachtel and Sarah Timberman.

Winner, Emmy for Outstanding Main Titles

The Original American Episodes (20 Hours)

Set in the 1960s, Dark Skies tells the story of idealistic congressional aide John Loengard who comes to D.C. to be part of JFK’s “New Frontier” only to find himself recruited into the secret Majestic-12 organization. He joins the fight against a growing threat from an extraterrestrial Hive species that plans to take the Earth away from humans by placing themselves into our populations before we recognize the danger. The NBC/Sony series used real events like Beatlemania, Vietnam, the Warren Commission and the Summer of Love. It wove them into UFOlogical keystones that included Roswell, Project Blue Book, Area 51, and the Betty and Barney Hill abduction. Along the way, real people became characters across multiple arcs, like Bobby Kennedy, Carl Sagan, Howard Hughes, John Lennon, Timothy Leary and many more.

“I thought I knew everything. I found out I knew nothing...

They’re here, they’re hostile and powerful people don’t want you to know.”

— John Loengard, Dark Skies pilot, ‘The Awakening’

After Dark Skies left the broadcast networks, Syfy aired the series in its entirety multiple times into the early 2000s, causing it to gain cult status when viewers could watch all the episodes without interruption.

Growing Respect in the 2020s

Dark Skies continues to inspire new fans today. Many respond to its actual relevance in a world where the U.S. military recently confirmed the reality of three striking cockpit videos from F-18 Super Hornet jets showing UFO encounters, and even The New York Times has published investigative reporting about the likelihood that wreckage from crashed UFOs exists.

In 2020, Obverse Books in Edinburgh published a book about the series aimed at the existing fan base. Author Matthew Kresal says:

“The series has proven to be ahead of its time… and remains unique. The combination of relatively recent history with the blossoming of UFO lore and an on-going, long-form narrative remains unmatched by anything else in the genre. Like the shadowy conflict it portrayed, Dark Skies has lingered in the background. At least, for now.”

Within the last six months, series co-creator Bryce Zabel has appeared on numerous platforms where the subject of Dark Skies always comes up. They include the global radio sensation Coast-to-Coast AM, Mystery Wire, Travel Channel and many others. Every single one of them wants to know: “When are you guys going to reboot this?”

A Global Fan Base

In the 2010s, fans were finally rewarded with being able to see the series the way it was intended, and the numbers indicate they like what they’ve seen a lot and would like to see more of it.

After over a decade, mostly over a dispute over music licensing rights, Dark Skies was finally released on DVD. Fans who had missed key episodes because they weren’t home on Saturday nights at 8pm could now watch them in sequence or binge them in a lost weekend.

  • Shout Factory curated the DVD collection, and produced over four hours of a compelling documentary that contained interviews with series leads and creators. On Amazon, the collection has nearly 300 reviews with a 4.4/5 average. The comments are incredibly positive.
  • Medium Rare released a UK-only DVD collection. On Amazon, the collection has nearly 200 reviews with a 4.3/5 average. DVD sets have been released in France and other countries.

These collections inspired a new generation of fans, reviewers, podcasters and bloggers to reconsider the series and what it meant.

That series Bible contained a timeline that went from 65-million BC to 2050 AD. The 20 produced hours of the classic series barely scratch the surface of story possibilities.

Mid-season in the original series, a so-called “bottle show” was produced, set against the backdrop of John Loengard’s testimony before the Warren Commission that was then investigating the murder of President Kennedy. Producers used the episode, “The Warren Omission,” as a chance to show new viewers what had gone on in the series previously and to surround that review with a riveting tale about one of America’s greatest national crimes. The extended clip from the episode is above.

Toward a New Franchise

In 2021, a new Dark Skies could pick up the already fan-embraced mythology of the classic series and take it in a new direction. Such a series could take any of the following forms:

1) A Complete Reboot of the Original Series

Also set in the 1960s, it would make use of today’s actors and state-of-the-art special effects to tell the classic story of John Loengard’s recruitment into Majestic-12 in a compelling new way.

In the same way that the Star Trek origin and characters could grow from the original series to the franchise we know today, Dark Skies would reimagine its own Universe. They have their Captain Kirk that multiple actors can portray, we have our John Loengard.

2) The Story Continues Decade by Decade

Under this scenario, we pick up where the classic series left off, starting in the 1970s, complete with Watergate, oil embargoes, disco, John Lennon’s UFO sighting, the Travis Walton abduction, and all the music, fashion and culture of the era. It would blend actors from the original series and a new generation of actors to create the world.

Under this scenario, the series would move on one decade in each new season. This option that is the most true to the classic series inspiration. Imagine the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Watergate tapes was Nixon talking about Roswell and that’s why it was erased.

3) Present Day w/ Flashbacks to the Past

In this scenario, over fifty years have passed since the lead character of our classic series, John Loengard (Eric Close), was left on board a Hive Mothership. An entire new diverse cast would be alive now but Loengard would reappear today as our man-out-of-time, like Steve Rogers, trying to cope with the changes he sees.

Edited by Robert Anglim

For demonstration purposes only, using footage from the original series, mixed with clips from other sources, here is a short sizzle video that re-imagines a new Dark Skies series, set in our present day. It’s to serve as a launching pad to talk about the possibilities only.

The story engine here is that the malevolent alien race’s grand scheme as suggested in the original series has now reached a tipping point. Loengard becomes the “Old Man,” leading the modern resistance in the shadows, when he discovers that the Majestic-12 organization was infiltrated by the Hive and disbanded decades before.

Series Continuity

All three of the original series leads, Eric Close, Megan Ward and Jeri Ryan have expressed an interest in reprising their characters for any new series continuation or reboot. Subject to availability, all would be available for, at minimum, a limited arc to allow a creative hand-off to a new generation of Dark Skies characters, and all have said they would be interested in more significant attachments.

  • “I would absolutely be into anything you do with this project!” — Jeri Ryan
  • “I want to be a part of it.” — Eric Close
  • “I would love nothing more than to revisit Kim.” — Megan Ward
Jeri Ryan (Juliet Stewart); John Loengard (Eric Close); Kimberly Sayers (Megan Ward)

Close, Ryan and Ward have all established their own independent fanbases since appearing on Dark Skies.

  • Jeri Ryan, in particular, is embraced by the Star Trek universe for her role as Seven-of-Nine in both Voyager and Picard, plus starring roles on Bosch, Body of Proof, Boston Public and Shark.
  • Eric Close has established a compelling TV presence with his work on Without a Trace, Nashville, Suits, Now and Again and The Magnificent Seven.
  • Megan Ward has created memorable characters in episodic arcs on multiple series in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise, plus Melrose Place, Party of Five, Sleeper Cell and Boomtown.

Going Global

Given the new global marketplace that has sprung to life since the classic series aired on an American broadcast network, Dark Skies could break new ground again, not only for what it is creatively, but for how viewers will see it.

Dark Skies could become a global franchise where other countries produce their own independent series, set in the same creative Universe, but featuring their own actors, locations and history, both national and UFO.

Imagine our classic Hive alien looking out at us from behind the Union Jack (or any other country’s flag in the TV production world).

The UFO/UAP reality issue is a global phenomenon. Even while creating and producing the flagship U.S. series, it was always the intent that the idea could become a global brand since an alien invasion is, by definition, a world-wide problem and not something that only the U.S. need worry about.

Dark Skies is, by design, a big picture concept. No matter where it is set or the time period it inhabits, a global alien invasion that has been going on since the end of World War II has reached a critical turning point when the danger has never been greater.

The World is More Ready Than Ever

Public awareness that we probably are not alone is at an all time high. The New York Times put the reality of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena on their front page on December 17, 2017. The government has confirmed it has been studying UFOs throughout the 2000s. The Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded a full report from the DNI by June 25, 2021.

As the present-day focus shifts beneath us, it makes past historical events come alive. The New York Times latest article, for example, is about the likelihood that the U.S. had crash wreckage from UFOs in its possession. Can a confirmation of Roswell really be far behind? Every single decade since World War II comes with thousands of sightings and cases, many of them already famous. All of them are fair game for the Dark Skies treatment.

The Series DNA Still Exists

The reason that Dark Skies can become a hit in the 2020s is simple. It is built on a sold creative foundation, a tested sci-fi genre embraced by viewers and fans alike, and it speaks to the current interest in UFO/UAP reality.

Any new series in a new Dark Skies franchise would share our creative canon while adding in new writing talent. It is no different than Star Trek or Star Wars as an idea that incorporates new ideas into the grand vision.

Dark Skies can be a classic reboot, a new continuation through the twisted history of alien contact, a present-day action thriller, or a global franchise. Or all at once.

The story DNA embedded in the Dark Skies Universe is that there is a battle going on, taking place in the shadows, and the stakes are the fate of humanity.

They’re still here, they’re still hostile and powerful people still don’t want you to know.

Respect, Reimagine, Reboot.

Dark Skies.




Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Bryce Zabel

Writer/producer in features & TV. Creator, five primetime series. Ex: TV Academy CEO; CNN reporter; USC professor. Author of books about the Beatles, JFK, UFOs.