Pop Culture

The ‘V’ Files: The Shocking Legacy of an ’80s Sci-Fi Cult Classic

Dunne’s family declined to comment for this story, preferring not to relive the tragedy. Packer did not respond to requests for an interview. As the deplorable Daniel, the actor, who went on to appear in movies such as RoboCop and Strange Days, along with a long list of TV appearances, remains one of the most chilling aspects of the miniseries.

A 22-year-old actor named Blair Tefkin entered a production in mourning. She had just made her screen debut with a small role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and was asked to fill the part left vacant by Dunne’s death. “Someone had to do it. But definitely, it was hard,” Tefkin says. “Normally, you’d be really excited and happy you got a part, but it was a different kind of experience.”

An extra week of filming was added to the production to re-create work that Dunne had already completed. “We had the physical problem of having to go back and reshoot scenes with a brand-new actress, who had to step into the role that a beloved person had been playing,” Johnson says. Tefkin sums up those reshoots with two words. “Awkward,” she says. “Sad.”

Ironically, her Robin is one of the bright spots of V, an effervescent kid who just yearns for things to return to normal when her life is upended. She was the innocent caught up in the crisis. “I didn’t really think about what she symbolized,” Tefkin says. “I was thinking more about it from the vantage point of sort of a self-involved teenager. Her life and the world is crumbling. She’s interested in boys and her crushes and is pretty tunnel-visioned.”

After shooting was finished, the V cast and crew gathered one more time for a wrap party to screen the miniseries. The mood was celebratory until the end, when the credits concluded with: “In loving memory of Dominique Dunne—Her friends miss her.”

“That’s when everybody in the room really started crying,” Johnson says. “That moment.”

Vs debut was a smash with audiences and critics, but V’s victory turned out to be a pyrrhic one for Johnson. NBC wanted more but Warner Bros. was reluctant to make it. The initial $8 million budget had ballooned to $13 million, and the financials seemed risky. “I think it was unclear to them just how valuable this was,” says Sagansky, the former NBC exec. Johnson blames V’s budget problems on the overtime incurred in the race to finish by May sweeps. The sci-fi element also came with sticker shock. “The use of special effects was really unique in television at that time, and because they were so new, it was unclear how much they cost,” Sagansky says. Blame fell on Johnson himself, although Sagansky feels that was misguided: “I never thought that Kenny got all his due for what he accomplished.”

NBC finally offered terms that convinced Warner Bros. to greenlight a second miniseries. The sequel would be called V: The Final Battle. Just before production was set to begin, Johnson says he got a call from a Warner Bros. TV executive, who said: “‘Kenny, we don’t want you to direct any of the sequel.’ Honest to God, this is a quote. ‘We are afraid you won’t direct the sequel as quick and cheap and dirty as we want it done.’”

Johnson was forced out for trying too hard.

His pleas to NBC for intervention went nowhere. “I called Brandon, of course, and he said, ‘I want to, but the network won’t let me meddle with Warner’s internal affairs,’” Johnson says.

The actors say they were unhappy to lose him but contractually obligated to continue. “I think it fundamentally changed the nature of the show,” Singer says. “The overarching politics were underemphasized in comparison to the more adventurous and action elements of the story. We felt that immediately.”

V: The Final Battle was still a hit when it aired during the May sweeps of 1984. It included Juliet leading an attack on the Visitors during a live television ceremony, during which she held their supreme commander before the cameras, tore at his face, and exposed the reptilian predator beneath. Packer’s Daniel met an appropriately karmic end, consumed (literally) by the alien regime he so dutifully served. Tefkin’s Robin gave birth to her Visitor-fathered twins—one a human baby with a thin snakelike tongue, the other a scaly green abomination. “I never saw any of this,” Johnson says. “All of my friends who worked on it said, ‘Kenny, you don’t want to see what they did to your original series. You just don’t.’”

The Final Battle used parts of his scripts, but Johnson changed his story credit to Lillian Weezer, a combination of the name and nickname of his golden retriever. NBC ordered a weekly series, but Johnson was completely locked out. The result? “Ugh,” says Sagansky, “the worst.”

V, the series, devolved into campy schlock. Badler noted the changing influences for her militaristic Diana. “Stalin and these sorts of very powerful, corrupt leaders were more where I was thinking when I did the role,” she says. “‘Joan Collins’ came in later with the series, when it became a little bit ridiculous and started to become a soap opera in outer space.”

Most actors would do anything to secure a lead role on a national network drama, but Grant was desperate to quit: “In fact, since I wanted out of it so badly, they kept throwing more and more money at me.” She kept proposing ways for Juliet to sacrifice herself for the cause. “I mean, I had literally 50 ways to kill me off, and they weren’t having it,” Grant says. “And the direction that the series took, I mean…they tried to write a mud fight between Diana and Juliet, and I wouldn’t have it.”

The audience didn’t care for it either. The V series was canceled after only a partial season.

Johnson also wasn’t involved in the 2009 ABC reboot of V, which had a slightly longer run than its ’80s predecessor, with 22 episodes over two seasons. Badler and Singer returned playing different characters, but they were the only connection to the original. The effects were better, for sure, but the impact wasn’t nearly the same.

Humanoid troops stand guard after imposing martial law on Earth in the original 1983 miniseries.Everette Collection

Johnson went on to develop the Alien Nation TV series in the late ’80s and remained active as a producer and director for decades. Today, he is working to revive his own version of V. He’s published novels revealing how he actually wanted the story to play out, and his original deal with Warner Bros. stipulated that he controls the movie rights. Although he has no say over V on television, he still hopes to mount a big-screen revival. He’s now looking for investors willing to buy in.

The fandom, he believes, is still out there. He keeps a drawer-size binder full of letters and emails, many of them penned by people who were just kids when they watched the original miniseries. Many thanked him not just for the scares and thrills, but for teaching a valuable moral. “If I printed all of them, I mean, it would be a stack that would go to the ceiling,” he says. “Honest to God, it’s crazy. But bless their hearts. I love those fans, and the fact that so many of them get it.”

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Actor/Director/Producer/Author Dean Butler Guests On Harvey Brownstone Interviews
Singer/Songwriter Mark Conklin Releases Groundbreaking Gospel Album