Jesse Alexander On Day One, Spaceships And Dungeons & Dragons

This week, Day One creator Jesse Alexander has been guest-blogging with us as part of our "TV Ate My Brain" week. Closing out the week, we talked to him about influences, the future of storytelling, and the importance of D&D.

You've worked on Lost, Alias, Heroes and now Day One. Have you been typecast as a science fiction and fantasy writer? Is there a great Grey's Anatomy script inside of you, waiting for the chance to come out?

I actually quite love my genre, the science fiction genre, and fantasy, and action adventure, really. It's what I grew up on. Growing up as a kid in the 1970s, I grew up on Star Wars and Ray Harryhausen and the Atari 2600 and Apple 2 and D&D and Doctor Who betamax bootlegs from England and all that stuff is really what I love. What drives me to be creative is coming up with new worlds and fun characters and extraordinary events and all that wonderful, fun stuff that so inspired me as a kid.

I think that I've been very lucky, incredibly lucky, to be able to work in the film and entertainment business doing what I love. Before I got into television, I did a little bit of writing in video games, which was very fun, and then I wrote feature screenplays for a number of years - None of which got produced, but they were all assignments and spec sales to Hollywood studios. My niche really was writing these big science-fiction adventure films, and videogames come to life. One of the first things that I sold was a modern-day Jason and the Argonauts, I sold that to Dreamworks, and I wrote a new take on Flash Gordon for Sony back in the day. I adapted the Berzerker novels for Alex Proyas as New Line, and made my bread and butter in the genre that I loved, and I've been lucky to continue to be able to do that.

So do you harbor secret wishes of going back and making that Flash Gordon movie? Do you want to go and work on a Star Wars project, now that you've made your name? Day One is your own creation, are you happier working on something that you've created, or do you want to make your mark on these worlds that meant so much to you?

I love creating my own worlds, it's something I'm very into. I think that now, with so many different platforms available to me as a storyteller, that I can really build out my own story. Day One is going to have many forms, it's going to have the version that is in prime time on NBC and then I'm going to be able to expand it into different arenas like comic books, novelizations and some really cool web stuff that we're going to be doing as well. So I love doing my own thing, creating my own intellectual properties and being able to build out my own little worlds.

So much of it for me is really about escaping to those worlds and being able to immerse myself in them, and explore more adventurous places and experiences that I'm not able to have in my daily life. I'm certainly open to working on other narratives and fictions, but there's something so special about creating something from scratch and then expanding it.

You're talking about what you've called on your blog "Transmedia Storytelling"; that there's going to be Day One the television show, but that there's also going to be Day One the web presence, and comic books as well... Is that how you see storytelling in general now? Multiple platforms for one story?

I certainly do see storytelling as going across multiple platforms now, but that really has a lot to do with how I grew up as a kid. As I always say, everything I learned about everything comes from Star Wars. For me, those movies were so impactful on me, such a consuming reaction. But it was also playing with the action figures, reading the comics, reading the books, playing the games, making Star Wars movies of my own... All that stuff just imprinted itself in my head. So when I think about the worlds that I create, I just automatically imagine the expanded universe component and get excited about using the different platforms to tell the story in new ways.

I'm very lucky that transmedia storytelling, crossplatform narrative, is so important right now in the entertainment business, in all facets of it, whether it's a video game or a movie or a TV show, it's important to be able to extend your story across platforms to be able to reach the fractured audiences that are experiencing the stories in so many different places and in so many different ways. I'm lucky to be able to think about that stuff naturally.

Jesse Alexander On Day One, Spaceships And Dungeons & DragonsS

That's touching on something I wanted to ask. You have NBC behind you on this?

Absolutely, NBC were such amazing and supportive partners in Heroes expanding their brand across the web and into different arenas, and I really made some great friends in our dotcom and licensing divisions who understood what I wanted to do and were really excited in having a show creator reach out to them and treat them like collaborators and partners. So I've been very lucky in having support from NBC.

I want to make sure that people understand that it's not about 'exploiting the brand,' it really is for me about having more toys to play with. I very much designed Day One, and that world, so that it would organically and authentically exist on those other platforms without being exploitative and ancillary. That every piece of the Day One brand that exists on whatever platform is incredibly valuable and canon for the mythology and important and valuable to the people who are looking at it.

So how established is the Day One mythology at this point? Do you have a clear idea of where everything is going, or at least a firm enough idea of the backstory so that other people can elaborate on it without contradicting what you want to do on the show?

Absolutely. Look, because I'm a psychopath and really into stories and a total D&D nut, I can't help but think about where everything is going and where everything came from, and who people are and why they're doing the things that they are. It comes very naturally to me to think about a massive arc for what's essentially a space opera. Again, it comes back to Star Wars: That's what George Lucas did! He sat down, and thought about it, and certainly Tolkein did as well. That's very much the school that I come from.

For Day One, I very much have a long term plan that's broken into, for the series, these different events. NBC, and rightly so, is very committed to making sure that, when Day One is on the air that it's very special, and doesn't overstay its welcome, and that every episode is important.

We're going to try some interesting things about a limited run. We're going to be on for twelve weeks in a row, starting in March. We're really trying to have the first season feel like a solid event that has a real sense of closure, and if it's successful, there are ways to continue the story. As I've been building Day One, I kind of think of it like I'm creating a D&D campaign, just to keep referencing D&D [laughs]. I feel like I'm designing a campaign, a ruleset, a world, and modules, and then my writing staff, or my partners in the publishing space or online are really the players. It's up to me to build space where they can be creative, and create stories that are fun for them to create and for other people to experience, and be integrated as canon into the Day One mythology.

How do you feel about the awareness of Day One? When it was first announced, a lot of people thought it was going to be something like Jericho, but here, you're talking about it being a space opera...

I can only hope that people will be surprised and excited about Day One. It's natural for people to compare it to other franchises or movies or stories, I certainly don't blame anybody for reading NBC's press release or looking at some images and comparing it with something that they're more familiar with. I'm totally okay with that, and I certainly do that all the time when imagining what Avatar's going to be like or some other movie that I'm really excited about. But I'm hoping that I'm being creative enough, and have hired amazing writers and collaborators to help me, to build out stories and a world that absolutely have familiar elements that people will see the influences, but they're going to be so fast and furious and thick that I think we're going to come up with something that's ultimately original. That's certainly my goal.

Do you have a finite ending in mind for the series? Are you heading towards a particular endpoint, or are you preparing to be Gene Roddenberry and have Day One still going in thirty years?

I certainly have a plan for the stories. Again, I am a product of sci-fi, fantasy and everything I grew up with in the seventies. I absolutely have a finite version of one of the Day One stories, but there are also ways that those stories can continue on television and in other places, as well. I don't necessarily need to be the guy in charge completely, it's important for a creator to have a firm hand on the tiller of their story, to believe in it and love it, but also be willing to bring on people who can collaborate in making those stories the best that they can possibly be. Certainly, Roddeberry was at the helm of Trek, but he certainly wasn't at the helm of The Next Generation, which was so great, or Wrath of Khan, or JJ's Trek. He established the culture and spirit with which Star Trek stories are told.

Lucas and Star Wars is another interesting example. He created an amazing universe and some fantastic movies, and there were periods in the development of the expanded universe where some amazing collaborators came in and were allowed to expand on it. I think some of the novels are such an amazing extentions of the Star Wars universe, as were some of the games. I think Knights of The Old Republic was such a great Star Wars adventure, and I can't wait to see what BioWare and Lucasarts come up with for the new MMO. And, you know, there were some good things about the prequels and there were some things that weren't so good. I'd love to see KOTOR the movie. Or Neill Blomkamp's adaptation of Republic Commando.

It's important, as an entertainer, a commercial artist really, to understand the value of having other voices in your process, to help make the work better and give it a longer shelf life.

If you had your chance to be part of the writing staff of any SF television show of the past, what would it be?

Well, I did just write about Space: Above and Beyond, and certainly Battlestar did some amazing things. Growing up with Star Wars was huge for me so being able to work on the new TV show that Lucas is doing would be really interesting as well. I'm completely obsessed with the Russel T. Davies and David Tenant years of Dr. Who. That would've been something magnificent to be part of. I can't wait to see how Steven Moffat tops Blink! But, really, At the end of the day, anything with spaceships in it is something that I would be all over. I just love spaceships. I hate to geek out like that, but that's what makes me more of sci-fi guy than a syfy guy. Know what I'm saying? it was so awesome to have Star Trek come out this summer and go and see a movie with space battles. It'd have to be something with some tech and some hardware. And you can bet your ass that, somewhere down the line, Day One will have it's fair share of that as well.