J.J. Abrams (inset) has "incredible" plans for Star Trek.
, the man behind Lost, Alias
and Mission: Impossible III
, is about to add another sci-fi classic to his résumé. Paramount recently handed the 40-year-old writer-producer-director the reins to one of its most revered projects: the next Star Trek
film. Abrams will produce the movie with Lost
cocreator (and fellow Trekker) Damon Lindelof
. Abrams recently called from his Pacific Palisades, California, home, where he was hanging with kids (and budding sci-fi fans) Henry, Gracie and baby August, to chat about sci-fi, the third season of Lost
and his "incredible" plans for the starship Enterprise
TV Guide: Which sci-fi shows had the biggest impact on you as a kid?
J.J. Abrams: As much as it was sci-fi, The Twilight Zone was the most impactful because the approach was humanistic and allegorical. And I was always a fan of Star Trek.
TV Guide: Did you have a favorite Twilight Zone episode?
Abrams: The pilot, "Where Is Everybody?" starring Earl Holliman. He was alone in the town, and it turned out he was being used as a guinea pig in an Air Force experiment.
TV Guide: Which sci-fi shows do you consider influences on your own work?
Abrams: I loved The Prisoner, which was a very odd sort of hybrid of sci-fi, mystery and character, and certainly there are elements of The Prisoner in both Alias and Lost. The prisoner was a guy constantly wondering where the hell he was. And there was some kind of agency that seemed to be in control of his destiny, and that was clearly a theme in Alias. And if there's any constant motion on Lost, it's the nod that we're giving to Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone.
TV Guide: Is it true that Lost's opening credits were designed as an homage to The Twilight Zone?
Abrams: Yeah, I did it on my laptop. That's why I did it in black and white. Even the sound — it was definitely different from Twilight Zone, but certainly in the vein of it.
TV Guide: Do you consider Lost a sci-fi show?
Abrams: It was sort of Damon's and my secret that it was a sci-fi show. We certainly never presented it that way. When we created it, conventional wisdom was that sci-fi on major networks didn't exist. The X-Files was seen as an anomaly. So we kept it to ourselves in the beginning. If we had pitched Lost as a sci-fi show, it wouldn't have gotten made.
TV Guide: What do you think of the state of sci-fi on TV today?
Abrams: There's certainly a lot more on than there were a couple of years ago. I'm a fan, so the more the better.
TV Guide: Do you think Lost's focus on character-driven stories has changed the way sci-fi is done on TV?
Abrams: If we've had influence, it's a wonderful thing, and if we can be a show that inspires people to tell stories that are character-based, then that's a happy by-product of doing the show. But character-driven isn't sci-fi, it's just good storytelling.
TV Guide: Will you have time to be involved in Lost's third season?
Abrams: I definitely look to be more involved this season, certainly more than I was last season [when directing Mission: Impossible III]. I look forward to directing an episode, and I'm planning on writing some.
TV Guide: What can you tell us about the new season?
Abrams: A lot of the season's already figured out, and it's incredible. The stories are amazing.
TV Guide: C'mon. Give us something.
Abrams: Desmond will definitely be back. He's not dead.
TV Guide: How exciting is it to find yourself in charge of resuscitating the Trek franchise?
Abrams: It's sort of surreal but wonderful. I'm producing and may direct.
TV Guide: Which of the Star Trek series were you a fan of?
Abrams: The original, and I thought Next Generation was terrific. I didn't really get into Deep Space or Enterprise.
TV Guide: What about Voyager?
Abrams: Not so much.
TV Guide: Do you own Star Trek DVDs?
Abrams: Oh, yeah. [Laughs] I have every DVD of every Star Trek episode from every series. I haven't seen every episode of every series, but I certainly know it well enough to be working on the movie.
TV Guide: When Paramount asked you to be involved in the film, did you immediately say yes?
Abrams: Not exactly. There have been 10 films and all these different series, so it was a question of finding out what they were anticipating. But it became clear pretty quickly that they were in a really open frame of mind. Then it became, "Hell, yeah!"
TV Guide: It's been reported that the film will focus on Kirk and Spock's early days and include their meeting at Starfleet Academy. You've said that was not entirely accurate. What parts are?
Abrams: I think we have an incredible story, but we've sort of promised each other we wouldn't talk about the specifics yet. But I can say that we're actively working on it, we're in the middle of breaking the story, and it's coming along great. I'd be happy to start sooner than Paramount thinks, but not a moment before it's ready.
TV Guide: Why the shroud of secrecy?
Abrams: It's way premature. Anything I say, people will read into it and make assumptions. But we have an incredible beginning of a really dramatic story, and it very much honors the canon of Star Trek. On the other hand, it won't be like anything you've seen before.
TV Guide: Do you feel any pressure taking on such a beloved franchise?
Abrams: I feel respectful of it. Fans of Lost don't compare to fans of Star Trek, but working on Lost gives us a view into how important it is to respect the fans.
TV Guide: Why do you think Star Trek continues to fascinate?
Abrams: It was incredibly smart television. The original series and Next Generation were about something — human nature and the idea of coming up against the unexpected and the often terrifying. It was a good story that happened to be science fiction. When I watch episodes with my 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter and see them so vitally respond to a show that was made the year I was born — it's not because it takes place on a spaceship. What endures isn't a genre, it's character and emotional connection.
For more sci-fi scoop, including a peek at Stargate SG-1's "Oz-some" 200th episode, pick up the new TV Guide magazine.
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