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Another British import is about to hit U.S. airwaves.
Wizards vs. Aliens — which was created by writer-producers Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford, who worked together on Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures — debuts Saturday on Hub Network with a two-part episode at 7 and 7:30 p.m. ET (new episodes will air at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturdays thereafter).
The series, which became a hit in the U.K. upon its November 2011 debut and is in the midst of filming season two, centers on a 16-year-old wizard (Scott Haran, Upstairs Downstairs) and his best friend (Percelle Ascott, Mandem on the Wall) who embark on a dark crusade to save the world from Nekross, an alien race determined to drain the world of magic. The show also stars Annette Badland (Doctor Who), Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones), Michael Higgs (EastEnders), Jefferson Hall (Vikings) and Tim Rose (Star Wars), among others.
Ahead of the show’s U.S. premiere, Ford talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how the series came about, what viewers can expect and why British fare is popular with American audiences.
The Hollywood Reporter: Where did the idea for Wizards vs. Aliens come from?
Phil Ford: It’s as simple as, Russell and I met for dinner in Hollywood to come up with a new series. It’s one of those things that’s very rare. You sit down and think, and right away come up with a new series — it must have been a very good fish dinner. In the world of Doctor Who, there is no such thing as magic. Everything comes down to science, and we actually wanted to do something different, which was something about magic or the supernatural. But we didn’t want to do something in any way that would be [too similar] to Harry Potter. So we thought for a little while, and I said simply, “Well what about wizards versus aliens.” It was as simple as that. We didn’t think it had ever been done before. It was wands against ray guns — as simple as that. Even though in actuality, our wizards don’t use wands.
THR: You said you didn’t want viewers to make Harry Potter comparisons, but were there any influences on you as you developed the show?
Ford: Obviously, it would be silly to deny that Harry Potter wasn’t in any way an influence, but magic has always been popular with kids, long before Harry Potter. Similarly, space aliens have always been popular with kids. [On Doctor Who], there have been so many aliens over the years, so that has to be an influence on this show. And The Sarah Jane Adventures, the show I co-produced with Russell immediately before Wizards vs. Aliens — it was tragically short and came to a sudden end when our star [Elisabeth Sladen] died [of cancer] — that influenced the show as well. It’s the same half-hour, two-part format. And there were all kinds of shows that Russell and I watched as kids growing up — The Tomorrow People, which is getting a remake in America [on The CW] — a lot of shows like that that we grew up on. We wanted to re-create those exciting, roller-coaster shows, which were a lot of fun. In addition, all our shows have a lot of heart and emotion. We sometimes take a chance on stories which you perhaps wouldn’t normally see in kids’ shows. Toward the end of the first season, some of our stories get quite dark and challenging in some way, but they still have heart and wonder and a sense of humor.
THR: Can you talk a little about how popular the show is in the U.K.?
Ford:I believe it was the No. 1 show in its time slot for its age group. It’s been a tremendous success from day one. I have to say, I think it actually has something to do with the title. Everybody got what it was about straightaway. The BBC was enormously excited about it, as was Fremantle when we went to talk to them about being partners in this [the show is produced by BBC Cymru Wales and FremantleMedia Kids & Family Entertainment]. I have to say, it comes down to that title. It was Russell’s suggestion [to title the show Wizards vs. Aliens]; I thought it was just a pitch. I wasn’t sure, but he was absolutely right.
THR: When creating the show, did you have adult viewers in mind as well?
Ford: Absolutely. Sitting down and writing for kids is possibly some of the hardest writing that you can do for TV because kids are smart, and the first thing you can never do in any way is write down to kids. In doing that, you simply have to write a good story. I wrote the kind of show I’d want to watch, and therefore hopefully a show that kids would sit down and watch with their parents and grandparents. It’s a family show as well as a kids show, one that the family can experience watching together.
THR: British shows such as Doctor Who and Downton Abbey are extremely popular here in the U.S. as well. Why do you think these shows are striking a chord with American audiences?
Ford: For all the differences we have in our cultures, I think that British culture and American culture essentially have shared roots there, and we get excited about the same things. We get scared by the same things, and most importantly we laugh at the same things. Also perhaps there’s a certain quirkiness about some British shows that you love over in America, and we love you for that. It’s a combination of all those things. Certainly, Doctor Who is becoming more popular these days, and a lot of that is the quirkiness of it.
THR: What else can you reveal about the first season of Wizards vs. Aliens?
Ford:Wizards vs. Aliens is very much about friendship. We have two boys, one who is a cool soccer player and a secret wizard, and another who’s a science geek. They’re not friends when they come together; but they become friends, and the second story is about them firming up their relationship. There is an homage to Gremlins … and later on we have a story about another wizard and the possibility of being tempted to the dark side. In a later story, the Nekross are not necessarily the villains, but it’s actually another human. All of this builds up to the last two stories, the final one being a massive moral dilemma to the wizards. The final heart-wrenching story is largely about what happened to Tom’s mother. We know from episode one that she died of mysterious circumstances. I think the thing about Wizards vs. Aliens is that there’s no typical Wizards vs. Aliens story. We’re just about to wrap on filming the second season, and there’s such a variety of stories. I think when people turn on the show, they can never be entirely sure what they are going to see apart from a great, fun show with a lot of heart, fun and adventure.
Watch a promo for Wizards vs. Aliens below.
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