It’s been a while since TV gave us a good, old-fashioned spaceship science fiction show but Syfy are attempting to redress the balance with their new thirteen episode series DARK MATTER created by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie (both of whom worked extensively on the Stargate family of series) and based on their four-issue comic book miniseries published by Dark Horse Comics in 2012. In the series, six amnesiac strangers wake up aboard a huge and powerful spaceship with no idea how they got there or why they’re there. STARBURST spoke to Joseph Mallozzi, now one of the co-executive producers on the series, about boldly going where no TV show has gone in recent years...
STARBURST: Can you explain how the original strip came about and what influenced the shape and style of the story?
Joseph Mallozzi: I’d been sitting on the show concept for years and when Stargate finally ended, I decided it was time to go out with it. One thing I learned during my days in development (where I got my start) is that an established property trumps an original idea every time. And so, I approached Dark Horse Comics about launching the prospective television series as a four part comic book series first. We did - and the collected four-issue trade paperback proved an invaluable visual aid to selling the show.
How did your time working on the various Stargate series influence the creation of Dark Matter as a comic strip and now as a TV series?
I developed Dark Matter over my many years on Stargate, so it should come as no surprise that the show has a very Stargate sensibility. It’s a fun sci-fi series with an emphasis on camaraderie and humour.
The comic strip series was intended as a springboard to the TV series. Were you confident that the show would actually become a TV series when you were creating the comic book and how has the story changed – if at all – in the transition to the visual medium?
Oh, you can never be confident in this business. In fact, around this time last year, I assumed the show was dead and another project I had in development was about to be greenlit. A month or so later, it was the reverse.
Was it always the intention that the show would find its home on Syfy?
Ideally, yes. Syfy is, well, the home of sci-fi on television. The bigger networks approach science fiction with a certain amount of trepidation, preferring more contemporary, Earth-based variations. We’re doing a ship-based SF series - and Syfy is the perfect home for it.
How accommodating have Syfy been in terms of allowing you to shape and develop the series as you see fit? Have Syfy had any hands-on involvement in the direction of the show?
They’ve been very accommodating and incredibly supportive in everything from creative, through production, to publicity and marketing. David Howe, Tom Vitale, Chris Regina, and the gang in PR and Marketing have been an utter delight to work with.
It’s been a while since we had a traditional spaceship sci-fi show on TV. Why do you think the ‘genre’ fell out of favour?
Ship-based SF is such a narrow sub-genre that can be incredibly successful (i.e. Star Trek) or not (take your pick). It tends to be considerably more expensive to produce than, say, a near future Earth-based series, so it’s always a much bigger roll of the dice. If it works, however, there is no more fiercely loyal and passionate audience out there.
Presumably, the series will move beyond the story told in the comic book run. How far in advance had you plotted the series before it was even commissioned?
As I said, I’ve been developing this show since my Stargate days. That’s a lot of time spent plotting. I have a five-year game plan and arcs for all seven characters - beginnings, middles, and ends. Ideally, we’ll have five seasons to tell our story. We have the journeys of all seven of our crew members mapped out in our heads and, like in real life, it won’t be a happy ending for everyone.
How conscious have you been of the need to establish the show’s identity away from the classic spaceship-set shows of the past?
As an SF fan, I’m well aware of what has come before and have worked hard to craft a show that pays tribute to past classics while forging a new path. In the pilot, we establish our world, our premise, the mystery at the heart of the series, while servicing seven different characters (it’s truly an ensemble show) - all of who have lost their memories and, thus, have no reference points to draw from. It’s a bit of a challenge, but allows us to nicely set these seemingly-familiar elements up - and then upend expectations in future as the series progresses.
What can viewers expect from the show as the series progresses?
Would “the unexpected” be a permissible answer? No? Okay, how about: twists, turns, surprises, action, adventure, humour, awesome visual effects, and engaging characters.
What are your own personal tastes or preferences in the science fiction/fantasy genre?
I’m a big reader. Some of my favourite authors include John Scalzi, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, and Joe Abercrombie.
Do you think it’s harder to launch a new genre show and to actually be seen and heard in today’s multi-choice/multi-channel/Netflix world?
It’s not necessarily harder to launch (in fact, one could argue it’s easier to launch given the need for product), but it’s certainly a lot harder to get noticed.
Why should STARBURST readers tune into Dark Matter?
Because it’s been a long time since we’ve had a fun sci-fi show on television and that’s how I would describe Dark Matter: character-focused, ship-based fun with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Finally, what’s the relevance of the Dark Matter title for the series?
The ‘Dark Matter’ of the show is actually more thematic than literal. As some scientists posit the existence of this nebulous dark matter which hypothetically makes up about 25% of the universe, the premise of this show alludes to the “dark matter” that resides within all of us - to varying degrees.
Dark Matter airs on Friday nights on Syfy in the USA and begins its run in the UK on Syfy on 15th June at 8pm.