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Six individuals wake up on board a spaceship with no memories of who they are or what they are doing drifting through space in Dark Matter, the latest sci-fi endeavor from longtime Stargate executive producer Joseph Mallozzi.
Labeling themselves with the numbers in the order they are awoken, the group (One-Six) set out aboard the ship in hopes of figuring out their identity and mission. As they progress throughout the ship, each individual quickly realizes a specific set of skills they excel in from their previous life.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Mallozzi, who also co-created the four-issue graphic novel the series is based on, about the creative process behind Dark Matter, how it differs from the rest of the sci-fi genre, and what the audience to expect from the first season.
Syfy president Dave Howe stated last year that he wanted to go back to being the best science fiction channel by bringing back more traditional sci-fi/fantasies. What about Dark Matter will attract this audience?
It’s different from any of the sci-fi that’s out there because the norm right now is a heavier, harder, darker sci-fi, which is great. But I’m missing the fun sci-fi. I worked on Stargate for over a decade and one of the things fans appreciated was that it had a sense of humor so it was a fun watch — kind of like Firefly or Farscape or even movies like Guardians of the Galaxy. So in terms of tone of the spirit, Dark Matter follows in those very large footsteps. I was a fan of all those types of shows. I think fans will respond to the humor, but at the heart of it, the characters.
The first episode of Dark Matter is very much a panel-for-panel recreation of the first two chapters of the comic book. What was the process behind doing such a literal adaptation?
It was actually a little bit of reverse engineering. The script came first. I’ve been developing the show for years and years while I was on Stargate. I thought, well, when Stargate gets canceled we can just roll right into Dark Matter, except Stargate kept getting picked up. I was able to really flesh out the backstory and the details for the series. Then when it came time to pitching, I got my start in development, as a development executive. When people come in with original ideas, the chances of them getting picked up were very rare, as opposed to established property. They were looking for books or comic books, since movies are so hard. So eventually we approached Dark Horse with the intention of creating a four-issue series that we could bring out and go out with and hopefully set it up as a TV series. At the end of the day, it wasn’t based on the comic book; it was based on the script translated into the book that we used as a visual to pitch the series. Jay Firestone, president of Prodigy Pictures, went out and did a masterful job of bringing the financial pieces of the puzzle together. He said that one of the things that helped was having that comic book. I always found that when you go in and pitch something, people can’t really imagine the good version. They imagine the worst possible version in their heads, but if you have the comic book there, this visual to show them, this is what we want to do. Which is, essentially, at the end of the day, what we ended up doing.
The comic book series finished back in 2011 and it ends on this big cliffhanger. Have you worked on it since then or was the plan to continue on the story if the show was picked up?
I’ve been developing this show for six or seven years so we’ve had a five-year game plan. The first season, I approached it as the first installment in a book series, so I had a beginning, middle and end, but it’s just peppered with twists and turns. One of the things we set out to do was in each episode have one of those WTF moments where you’re like, ‘OMG, I can’t wait to tune in next.’ The first episode is that revelation about their identities, and the second episode is another revelation. In the spirit of the type of shows I like to watch, Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Shield, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, you watch with one eye on the show and the other on the clock thinking, ‘OMG, I can’t believe this almost over.’ It’s the type of show where every episode something happens. I’m tired of the cookie-cutter stand-alone episodes where everything reboots at the end. I just think it’s fun to really create a space opera in the truest sense of the word.
The characters aboard the ship wake up with their memories of their identity missing. How important is exploring each character’s old-self vs. their new lease on life?
I always love the theme of redemption, and it’s something I always come back to in my writing. Are people born bad or are they products of their environment? And at the end of the day, people have done something in their past that they would like a do-over. It’s interesting to explore these six very different individuals. In the pilot you just introduce them. It’s a double-edged sword because on the one hand they’re kind of cyphers, they don’t really have a backstory to draw from, and there’s six of them so you’re trying to cover these six characters in a 43-minute episode. On the other hand, the viewers start off on the ground floor with them. They’re learning about the characters at the same time as the characters themselves. In the pilot, you see flashes of these characters, but as the series progresses, we begin to peel back the layers of them and really get to know them. What’s interesting is that there are six — no actually, android makes seven — really colorful characters who will evolve in various ways. In their search for redemption, like real life, it’s not going to be a happy ending for everyone.
What is the world that exists in this show like? In the pilot, the small village on the planet lives in fear that corporations may swoop in and take over. What can fans expect from the world of Dark Matter in terms of government, assassins, etc.?
It’s a two-tier system. There’s the Galactic Authority, they’re the intergalactic police, keeping the law in colonized space. For the most part, more than 90 percent of it is corporate-owned. We’re imagining a future where corporations, multi-corps, multi-planetaries go out and see worlds to exploit resources. They’ll find a world, stake a claim, set up shop and just exploit the planetary resources, and that’s how they make money. They’ve got all the power, and in season one we establish six major planetaries. They’re the real power players. They fight for control, but the real issue is everything has to be very public. In the case of the first episode, there’s an independent mining colony they want to move on, but they can’t just move in and wipe out the people. They hire mercenaries to go in and do their dirty work for them. For the most part, the Galactic Authority are in their pockets. They turn their heads the other way, unless theirs hands are forced. In the case of our characters, they have no memory of anything other than they are wanted — wanted by their rivals, by their former employers. None of whom they’ll see coming because their memories have been wiped.
Why should fans tune in?
People tune in for a concept but they stay for the characters and we’ve got some very interesting, colorful, diverse characters. At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi adventure series, this is the one you should check out.
Dark Matter premieres Friday at 10 p.m. on Syfy.
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