Defying Gravity (2009)(Fox/Omni Film Productions)

Written By: Ken Hulsey
Source: BBC (Press Material)

The BBC and Fox television, take prime-time television back to where it always belonged, outer-space.

Ron Livingston (Sex And The City, Band Of Brothers) stars in Defying Gravity, a new adventure drama series from creator and executive producer James Parriott (Grey's Anatomy) and executive producer Michael Edelstein (Desperate Housewives). The 13-part series will broadcast on BBC Two in October 2009.

Set in the near future, Defying Gravity revolves around the exploits of eight astronauts from five countries (four men and four women) who undertake a mysterious six-year international space mission through the solar system. With the eyes of the world upon them (everything they do is monitored and every emotion they feel scrutinised) they soon discover that their real assignment is not at all what they thought...

The series' international ensemble cast is led by Ron Livingston (Sex And The City) as flight engineer Maddux Donner, Laura Harris (24) as ship's geologist Zoe Barnes, Malik Yoba (New York Undercover) as flight commander Ted Shaw, Christina Cox (Blood Ties) as biologist Jen Crane, Florentine Lahme (Impact) as pilot Nadia Schilling, Paula Garces (The Shield) as pilot, scientist and on-board documentary producer Paula Morales, Eyal Podell (24) as psychiatrist and medical officer Evram Mintz, and Dylan Taylor (House Party) as theoretical physicist Steve Wassenfelder.

The cast on planet Earth is led by Andrew Airlie (Reaper) as Mission Control Commander Mike Goss, Karen LeBlanc (ReGenesis) as scientist Eve Shaw, Zahf Paroo (Battlestar Gallactica) as grounded flight engineer Ajay Sharma, Maxim Roy (MVP) as flight surgeon Claire Dereux and Ty Olsson as Rollie Crane, once Mission Commander on board Antares, and now cap comm; episodic director Peter Howitt (Sliding Doors; Bread) also plays the role of British journalist, Trevor Williams.

Though "Defying Gravity" is mostly a US/Canadian co-production by Fox Television Studios and Omni Film Productions Ltd (Canada), German broadcaster ProSieben, and the BBC, were also contributors, the production team felt that it would be in their best interest to release the series in the UK, and other international markets, before bringing the series to American shores.

Producer James Parriott explains, "Michael (producer Michael Edelstein) was trying to find a show that would work under this independent film type of financial model, the idea of starting a project by selling foreign first and bringing it back to the United States. It was instantly appealing to me, because with an international space mission you have crew members who are from different countries. It's an international effort, so it has an international feel. It's about humankind and it's about man's place in the universe, as opposed to the United States planting a flag on the Moon."

In developing the sci fi series, the producers went out of their way to make sure that the show didn't feel like a typical sci fi series. This, of course, caused them to have second thoughts, once they realised just how much of a daunting task they had just gotten themselves into.

Parriott commented, "Do we really want to do space? Because that's weightlessness, that's big sets, it's expensive, and it's difficult to produce.' I don't think we realised how difficult it was to produce until we really got into it."

It was at that point that the duo realized that if they were going to make a 'realistic' sci fi based series, then they would have to go straight to the source, NASA, for their research.

Edelstein adds, "We both made trips to the Kennedy Space Center and to the Johnson Space Center, and we started from a basis of fact."

"Then we started to do research and talked to a number of very high-ranking scientists in NASA. We asked them, 'If you were to do a manned mission through the solar system, what would you need?' So that was sort of our jumping-off point."

They even went as far as to take several astronauts to dinner, a kind of relaxed way to pick their brains, over a casual meal and a few drinks.

Once the science facts had been dealt with, the producers then began to focus on the sci fi elements of the program.

Edelstein explains, "Jim created his characters and his story and this over-arching mystery, which took us a little bit more into the world of sci-fi. But we tried to make the spaceship and the space environment seem real, and that was a choice we deliberately wanted to make.

The creative aspect of the show, as a kind of hybrid of scientifically-based science-fiction with character-driven drama, gives Defying Gravity a unique position within the sci-fi genre.

"And we certainly have a mystery element as part of the show, this dark secret that unfolds. But I think we stand out as different as what you typically think of as a sci-fi show in that we're doing a character-based drama that also has humour. We're probably a 'girlier' show than most sci-fi shows, but I think that's what makes it interesting and gives it a new spin. I do think that when people watch this, they'll say, 'I haven't seen anything like that before'."

Like all good science fiction films, and television series, before it, "Defying Gravity" is much more than just spaceships and aliens, there are also deep issues to be dealt with.

"It's set in the near future, but that's really simplifying what it is. What Jim has created is a complex soap opera set in space and also on earth during the training process. It's a little bit of Grey's Anatomy. It's got an overarching mystery like Lost, so it's sort of a show that's never really existed before.

The setting for the show also allows room for exploration into many aspects of human development and interaction and highlights the underlying theme that runs throughout.

I think the central theme of Defying Gravity is about man finding himself and his place in the universe." adds Parriott.

Episode Synopsis:

Episode 1

Only hours from leaving Earth's orbit for Venus and a six-year inter-planetary sojourn aboard the spaceship Antares, two of the eight novice astronauts on board mysteriously develop heart ailments.

For ship's engineer Ajay (Zahf Paroo) and Rollie (Ty Olssen) it means a premature return to Earth, and replacement by Donner (Ron Livingston), an experienced astronaut who lives under the shadow of a previous mission during which he was forced to abandon two people on Mars, and Ted (Malik Yoba) who will have to leave behind his wife, Eve, (Karen LeBlanc) at Mission Control.

Donner's arrival disturbs beautiful young astronaut Zoe (Laura Harris) who is linked to him by a strange dream and a romantic encounter from their early training days, but delights the sensual Nadia (Florentine Lahme) who has strictly carnal intentions.

Although nearly every facet of life on the Antares is broadcast to avid viewers on Earth by documentarian Paula (Paula Garces), there is also a hidden force that appears to be controlling events from within the spacecraft.

While Zoe tries to locate the source of a baby's cry, audible only to her, Ajay is devastated at his impending departure from the ship and ejects himself into space.

Fighting against time and ignoring orders from Mission Control, Donner rescues Ajay in a courageous act of redemption and profound spiritual significance.

With the real purpose of the mission known only to flight director Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie), and a select few, the Antares finally leaves Earth's orbit for the immensity of interstellar space.

Episode 2

With the Antares en-route to Venus, the crew finds that some past choices, combined with an unknown element in the ship's mysterious Storage Pod 4, lead to a complex web of dreams, desires and illusions that result in a life-threatening crisis.

Look for "Defying Gravity" this October on BBC 2. The US air date has not yet been determined.

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