Sometimes known as the Rod Serling of this generation, Kenneth Johnson is the mind behind iconic science fiction television shows such as The Incredible Hulk, The Bionic Woman, Alien Nation, and the landmark mini-series, V, the highest rated work of sci-fi in TV history. He joined Dave Schrader (email) to discuss his work, the evolution of science fiction entertainment, and his newest novel, The Man of Legends.
Johnson's book is about a cursed man who has lived for millennia and whose life intersects numerous historical events and people. "Part of what the story talks about is the ripple effect that our actions have and... how they affect other people," he said, noting the underlying themes of tolerance and humanism. Johnson's TV series Alien Nation shared similar themes of intolerance and prejudice. "What we have here [with Alien Nation] is the opportunity to do In the Heat of the Night... a piece that's about culture clash, about prejudice, about discrimination, and really talk about it," he explained.
Regarding his work on The Incredible Hulk, Johnson revealed how he combined elements from the comic character with ideas from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to create the drama. The theme running through Hulk was the enemy within, he noted. Johnson spoke about the frustrating state of special effects in the 1970s, pointing out the original Hulk transformation was done with stop motion and dissolves like the transformation scenes in The Wolf Man (1941).
Special effects were still very limited during the production of Johnson's mini-series, V. He shared a story about the difficulty involved in creating the scene where chief antagonist Diana unhinges her jaw and consumes a live guinea pig. Johnson disclosed he owns the motion picture rights to the V and plans to do a trilogy of films, thought not with a major studio for fear of losing creative control over the project.
Open Lines followed during the last 90 minutes of the program. Callers phoned in to share memories of their favorite shows. In the final hour, Johnny Whitaker, child star of Sigmund & the Sea Monsters, spoke about the original Sigmund, how he received a percentage from the show's profits, and his involvement in Amazon's remake of it. Whitaker also discussed his work on the TV series Family Affair.