In May 1983, NBC broadcast a two-part miniseries that immediately became iconic in the annals of screen science fiction. Writer/director Kenneth Johnson was riding high on the success of his shows The Bionic Woman and The Incredible Hulk. Being a fan of Sinclair Lewis’ novel, It Couldn’t Happen Here – he wanted to tell a modern-day story of a grassroots fascist uprising in the United States.

However – when he pitched the idea to the network, he was advised to add a science fiction spin. Johnson did not want to be known as primarily a sci-fi storyteller but the more he mulled over the suggestion the more it made sense. Because of America’s status as an untouchable world superpower – it was paradoxically more realistic that only an alien invasion of the US would be believable.
The gamble paid off. Generating massive ratings and critical acclaim – V was literally an overnight sensation. With brilliantly structured dialogue composed in Iambic Meter, revolutionary visual and make-up effects (for the time) and heartfelt performances from a terrific ensemble cast, it became part of 80s pop culture immediately. Whilst the effects and such do look somewhat dated (but still more than passable) it’s political and social commentary still resonate to this day.
When it was broadcast in the UK the following year along with its sequel miniseries (more on that in a bit) – it actually generated higher ratings than the Olympic Games.
It’s a normal Spring day in 80s America. People are going about their business and things are ticking along nicely. Until giant spaceships arrive hovering over every major city on Earth. The world panics but eventually the Visitors make contact. Asking to meet the Secretary-General on the roof of the United Nations building – they request help to manufacture a chemical vital to the survival of their dying world. In return, they offer to share everything they know.

Despite having to constantly wear sunglasses (they are not accustomed to bright light) and an odd timbre in their voice – the Visitors are identical to humans in appearance.
Mankind collectively breathes a sigh of relief and over the coming weeks and months begin to accept the Visitors into society.
But when something seems a bit too good to be true it usually is.
People start going missing. Scientists and their families are targeted and persecuted. Not just by the Visitors but by humans who wish to benefit from their presence on Earth.
One of the characters in the ensemble is a Jewish Holocaust Survivor. And whilst the Visitor’s uniforms are red – the symbol on it and the way they are behaving begins to stir up traumatic memories from the past. Things are worryingly familiar about all this.

Television cameraman Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) also thinks things are a bit too perfect. And in the process of investigating one of the ships in secret, he makes some disturbing discoveries. These visitors are nothing like humans. They are in fact giant bi-pedal reptiles. Capable of spitting poison and requiring a diet of alive or just freshly killed animals. The human faces with which they greet Earth are just masks. With the help of a Visitor sympathetic to humans – he’ll learn that they are just as two-faced in deeds as in appearance. They are not here to manufacture a chemical. They want to steal the water. There is also another basic shortage on their homeworld of Sirius. They need food. And mankind looks tasty…

When medical student Juliet Parrish (Faye Grant) finds herself persecuted by the Visitor intrusion she almost accidentally becomes the leader of a Resistance movement. It is not long before her and Donovan’s paths cross as they battle to save mankind from extinction.
Thwarting their every move is Diana (Jane Badler). A high ranking officer in the Visitor fleet as deadly as she is beautiful. An alien Joseph Mengele who relishes in performing horrific experiments on human subjects.

V has a large ensemble of characters both good and bad. Some who resist, some who comply – some who even collaborate. Johnson took inspiration from the works of Tolstoy in this story element’s construction. Historically – the Los Angeles Resistance movement echoes the Vichy French Vs. Nazis in World War II. Disenfranchised teenagers are targeted by The Visitors and recruited into the Visitor Youth. Like the Hitler Youth.
The scientific community in persecuted much like the Jews were in Nazi Germany.
Interestingly some Visitors actually have a conscience. They form a network within the ranks to form a group called “The Fifth Column”. They secretly aid mankind and the Resistance.
As well as the historical parallels there are also influences from The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Twilight Zone: To Serve Man.
There is also plenty of sci-fi action to appeal to the Star Wars fans tuning in. With laser gun battles, spaceship chases and huge explosions – V thrills you while it’s making you think.
It is truly superior entertainment. With an impressive career filled with remarkable achievements – V is arguably Kenneth Johnson’s masterpiece.
Of course – the Network wanted more. Sadly, this is where things started to go a bit wrong.
Just over a year later, the three-part sequel V: The Final Battle was broadcast and greeted again with great ratings and enthusiastic fan response. Most of the cast returned, but Kenneth Johnson did not.
Johnson did work on the initial story – but creative control was being taken away from him bit by bit. In the end, he decided to walk away from the project altogether. Not wishing to be associated with the finished product he chose to be credited for his contribution as “Lillian Weezer” (the name of his dog). He still does, however, have a “Created By” credit in the opening titles. It was directed by Richard T Heffron.
The miniseries isn’t exactly bad. But it does look notably cheaper and the sci-fi elements do kind of go in a cheesier direction (two words – Star Child). Still, it’s entertaining enough.
The following year saw the premiere of V: The Series and honestly? The less said about that is better.
In 2009 a reboot lasted for two seasons.
All without the involvement of Kenneth Johnson. Luckily for him, he was able to leave V behind to work on many more film and TV projects including the really rather excellent TV series Alien Nation from the late 80s/early 90s (and would also direct five rather excellent sequel TV movies).
But Johnson is not finished with V. For almost two decades he has been working hard to bring his own vision back to the screen in some form.
First, in 2004 he wrote a new miniseries V: The Second Generation. When bringing it to the screen proved difficult he opted instead to turn it into a novel which was published in early 2008.

Fans were somewhat perplexed at first – as the book continues 20 years from the end of the first 1983 miniseries. It completely ignores the events of V: The Final Battle, the following weekly series and it has no relation to the 2009 reboot.
However, it does pick up on a tantalising cliffhanger left in the original V that anything afterwards failed to explore. Something many fans were disappointed they never get to see.
Johnson makes good on that promise in the novel and it makes for a great read. Some characters who died in the sequel shows are still alive in Johnson’s world and for those disappointed to have seen them gone – it’s great to see them back.
And that’s not all. Johnson has the motion picture rights and is tirelessly working to bring a modern-day remake of his original miniseries to the screen. He’s currently working to secure independent financing and a fairly moderate budget to bring the vision to the screen the way he sees fit.
Until that day comes – we can enjoy the excellent miniseries on DVD and Blu-Ray and check out what else the franchise has to offer in terms of sequel series, a reboot and books.
I’m looking forward to seeing that movie get made. With the way the world is nowadays – maybe V’s message is more important than ever.

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