How 'The Orville' Producer Jason Clark Is Using Sci-Fi to Explore New Territory
There's nothing on TV quite like The Orville.
Seth MacFarlane's new sci-fi show has been carving out a distinctive space for itself since its debut last month.
A half-serious, half-humorous callback to older sci-fi series like Star Trek and other weekly, episodic adventures, we can thank Jason Clark for much of the show's unique flavor.
The current president of Fuzzy Door Productions, the production studio behind nearly all of MacFarlane's work from Family Guy to Ted to, most recently, The Orville, has put his own personal stamp on one of network TV's best new shows.
As an executive producer on The Orville alongside MacFarlane, he has some exclusive insights into how the science-fiction dramedy began and what it's like to put it all together.
We spoke with Clark recently about how The Orville prepared for launch and how much of the show's original vision and influences remained intact throughout the entire process.
The Orville was inviting and warm - a place you'd want to go to rather than the dystopian, dark, almost-noir future of most recent science fiction that film and television portrays. I thought it would be very refreshing and exciting to try to do something that felt and looked different. The episodes were always conceived, I believe, to be dramas with an element of comedy coming from the characters and their humanity.
Beyond the Star Trek influences, was the show inspired by any other sci-fi stories in particular?
I think one of the influences of the show is The Twilight Zone where each week, a new world was established and a new story told. While each episode was a standalone, the series as a whole was a commentary on the human condition and the parable of life.
Having worked with Seth MacFarlane on several projects now, how was it different to work together on a science-fiction show?
I've always loved science fiction but never had the opportunity to work within it. Seth's point of view in science fiction is really hearkened back to the science fiction of my childhood. Those were stories that were always parables about the human condition - set in the distant future.
The challenges that come naturally with setting a TV show in a future universe is that what we are creating from whole-cloth was daunting, but at the same time exciting. I was able to collaborate with artists we worked with in the past who were thrilled to have the opportunity to get in touch with their science-fiction roots and also be allowed to create something incredible and different each week.
Seth is terrifically clear about his vision and I know the creative team was thrilled to have his compass for their creative direction.
Doing a science-fiction show that is an episodic story as opposed to a serialized one means that we are most likely going to see a different alien or world every week.
On a TV budget and schedule, this is an enormous challenge. But with Seth, we always felt we were safe to take a risk and reach higher. I think that we, as an artistic group, delivered a world in which the drama could play out, but the characters could also have their comedic moments without undermining the drama of the show.
It has always been an important cornerstone of science-fiction storytelling to tell stories that are a commentary on the human social condition - and it is on The Orville.
Those modern issues are really timeless human issues that we continue to struggle with. We can use the veil of an alien species or alternate worlds to help us reflect back on those foibles, those conditions of humanity that allow for serious drama but also humorous introspection.
Multiple big-name actors have appeared on the show so far, including Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron. Both co-starred in Fuzzy Door Productions' A Million Ways to Die in the West, so was it an easy process to get them involved in The Orville?
Seth has a group of collaborators that he likes to work with. We were extremely honored to have both Liam and Charlize in the Orville family. I think it's a great thing for a filmmaker to work with people they are familiar with and have a rapport with.
On The Orville, we were lucky to have had such talented actors as Liam and Charlize, as well as Jeffrey Tambor, and many others, but our entire cast and crew are some very amazing artists, a lot of whom Seth has worked with in the past.
I think for a filmmaker, working with familiar people allows for a creative shorthand that can be very helpful.