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The History of "V"

the history of v

V originally aired as a four-hour television miniseries on NBC in May of 1983. Inspired by Sinclair Lewis' 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here, which told of a fascist takeover of America, creator Kenneth Johnson crafted a similar tale around the framework of an otherworldly invasion.

In V, an armada of alien motherships takes position over major population centers of our world. Although the "Visitors" appear to be little more than a race of benevolent humans professing "universal friendship," a small number of Earthlings discover that both their motives and appearance are decidedly sinister. Parallels to the rise of Nazi Germany abound, including a "Holocaust" targetting scientists as scapegoats. By the film's end, a full-scale human Resistance has built up against the Visitors, secretly abetted by a "Fifth Column" within the invaders' own ranks.

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The original V miniseries was an enormous ratings success, prompting NBC to commission a six-hour follow-up, despite Johnson's desire to continue the story as an occasional series of two-hour TV movies. The existence of at least two V scripts written for an hour-long format hints that a weekly series may have also been under consideration at that point.

Johnson eventually left the sequel over "creative differences," and the script he supervised was extensively rewritten by the new production team. 

V: The Final Battle was rushed into production, and aired in May of 1984. Despite the rewrites, it was still a rousing adventure which touched on social issues such as abortion rights and the threat of nuclear annihilation. Although The Final Battle brought the war against the Visitors to a conclusion, the program was again a ratings success, and NBC ordered a weekly series to premiere in October of 1984.

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V, the series, chronicled the Visitors' return to Earth, but without Johnson's involvement it quickly degenerated into a soap-opera format. Spectacular special effects were promised, but the show relied heavily on stock footage from the two miniseries (and even, in one instance, from the 1953 film War of the Worlds). Midway through the season, several cast members were written out of the series, including the popular Michael Ironside. The final first-run episode, "The Return," aired in March of 1985.

A twentieth episode, entitled "The Attack," was scripted but never filmed. It would have concluded the finale's cliffhanger and sent the series off in a new direction.

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The V sets were kept in storage for some time following the cancellation, in hopes of bringing the series to some kind of closure. Among the options discussed was a final miniseries, but it never materialized.

One scenario would've taken viewers to the Visitor homeworld, as Philip, Willie and the Resistance would've attempted to stop Diana from overthrowing the Leader. A second idea would've presented the aftermath of the Leader's peace treaty, with the Visitor fleet withdrawn and a relatively small number of aliens choosing to remain on Earth. In that version, Donovan's Resistance would've allied with the remaining Visitors to revolt against a hardline United States regime (aided by Ham Tyler) which had imposed Apartheid-like conditions on the peaceful aliens.

Years later, J. Michael Straczynski (creator of TV's Babylon 5) was commissioned by Warner Bros. to write a script for V: The Next Chapter, a first-run syndication version of the series, but it was deemed too expensive to be profitable.

Kenneth Johnson subsequently produced a TV series entitled Alien Nation (based on the theatrical feature of the same name) for the Fox network. While not specifically a follow-up to V, it frequently dealt with the clash of cultures involved in assimilating a race of non-human aliens into our society. Although cancelled after one season, it resurfaced as a series of two-hour TV movies (much like Johnson's original plans for V).

In 2008, Tor Books published Johnson's original novel, V: The Second Generation. It was set approximately twenty years after the events of the initial miniseries. Johnson hoped that it would form the basis for a new television miniseries. However, others had drawn their own plans...

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In November 2009, ABC-TV will debut a new weekly series based on V, starring Morena Baccarin and Elizabeth Mitchell. It will be a remake rather than a follow-up.

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Where to Find "V"

where to find v

Both V miniseries and the weekly show are now available on DVD via Warner Home Video in the U.S. "Promotional" CDs of the soundtracks for both miniseries and the weekly show were once made available by an outfit called SuperCollector, which now appears to be out of business. (The liner notes for the series soundtrack were cribbed from this very page!)

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Suggested Additional Reading and Viewing

suggested additional reading and viewing

bulletWar of the Worlds (novel, 1898) by Herbert George Wells. Wells' swipe at British colonialism is a seminal alien invasion story. Adapted countless times in a variety of media, most prominently in Orson Welles' Halloween 1938 radio broadcast and in the 1953 feature film.
bulletIt Can't Happen Here (novel, 1935) by Sinclair Lewis. The original inspiration for V.
bullet"To Serve Man" (short story, 1950) by Damon Knight. The "Kanamits" of this classic have something in common with the Visitors. Also adapted into an episode of the original Twilight Zone TV series.
bulletChildhood's End (novel, 1953) by Arthur C. Clarke. Also involves a fleet of motherships hovering over major urban areas, as well as aliens with a secret agenda.
bulletEarth vs. the Flying Saucers (movie, 1956). Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation effects and a landmark-destroying aerial battle over Washington, D.C. highlight this B-movie treatment.
bulletThe Mysterians (movie, 1957). Japanese epic in which a doomed alien race (who want our women) unleash a giant robot and a fleet of flying saucers upon Mankind.
bulletFootfall (novel, 1985) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Another humans vs. aliens tale. Goes to great lengths to provide a convincing reason for an interplanetary invasion. At one point, it takes a subtle jab at the premise of V, though the show is not mentioned by name. (Check out page 390 of the paperback edition.)
bulletWorldwar (series of novels) by Harry Turtledove. This "alternate history" series explores an Earth in which the rival powers of World War II put aside their differences to unite against reptilian alien armies. The first four novels are In the Balance, Tilting the Balance, Upsetting the Balance and Striking the Balance. A follow-up trilogy called Colonization includes Second Contact, Down to Earth and Aftershocks.
bulletIndependence Day (movie, 1996) Fifteen-mile-wide alien saucers position themselves over Earth's cities in preparation for a devastating all-out assault, and a desperate band of freedom fighters employs a modern style of "germ warfare" to save the planet.

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