INTERVIEW: Showrunner Mark Altman talks Season Two of ‘Pandora’

(image: The CW/ViacomCBS)

You know I want to live Mark Altman’s life.

I first met Mark Altman when I had a chance to review his The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored Oral History of Star Trek. Of course, I was a long-time fan of the 1998 film Free Enterprise, which he shares co-writer’s credit with Robert Meyer Burnett. But since then, he’s been really busy. His follow- up book – Battlestar Galactica, So Say We All was released in August 2018, and his latest oral history, Nobody Does It Better, chronicled the history of the James Bond franchise, will be released in paperback this fall after debuting in hardcover earlier this year.

The guy is a genuine, patron saint of geeks, and I gotta love him for it.

I’ve been a big fan of another of his shows, The Librarians, so I was really happy that we were able to sit down and chat about his latest work: Pandora on the CW Network.

Talk about the inspiration behind this show. How did you come up with the concept?

I used to refer to season one as The Paper Chase in space but no one knew what the hell I was talking about so I instead resorted to using the shorthand “Harry Potter” instead. In a way, the Academy was our Hogwarts. Instead of magic, we used spaceships and slicers (our equivalent of lasers) to save the Galaxy. Also, Harry Potter, like The Paper Chase, celebrated the importance of a great teacher in the formative life of a young student and that was important to me in the conception of the series. I basically wanted to do a college show as a sci-fi series which is kind of what I guess The Boys spin-off will be now. However, what became readily apparent to us as Pandora went on is that the show wanted to be a sci-fi adventure and so over the first season it evolved. Certainly now in the new season, Pandora is a sci-fi space adventure series rather than “future college.” It’s funny, this is one of the few pilots that I didn’t sell off a pitch. I actually wrote the pilot and sold it because I knew how impossible it would be to sell a space show not based on an existing I.P. I’m still pretty shocked it happened.

I’m a like-minded pop culture nerd, so I have to know. With your such a diverse pop culture background — journalist to fiction writer to television producer. How do you manage that type of versatility?

With great difficulty. One of the biggest challenges was finishing my first two volumes of The Fifty-Year Mission oral history for St. Martin’s when I was doing Agent X a few years ago which overlapped. Usually, I’m able to write my non-fiction books with Ed Gross during my hiatus, but that show was happening the same time the manuscript was due so that presented a ton of obstacles. I currently have the same problem with another book. It’s much better when I can write between shows. It’s also been challenging to keep on schedule with our very popular podcast series like Inglorious Treksperts and The 4:30 Movie. We had recorded a ton of episodes before I left to film season two, but found ourselves starting to run out so I needed to get up at crazy times to record new episodes while I was still in Europe in order to stay in originals. And we’re trying to stay on a weekly schedule not only for the audio podcasts but for the video podcast network on the new Electric Now streaming app.

Tie the last question into what you consider to be the secret of your creative success.

Curiosity… insatiable curiosity.

I can relate to that! So, what is it about Pandora that sets it apart from your other work, like The Librarians?

Surprisingly for someone who is such a fan of genre, I’ve very rarely had a chance to work on genre projects. I’ve done mostly procedurals and action series. With the exception of The Librarians which was fantasy, I haven’t really had the opportunity to do much genre so it was a thrill to get to do Pandora which is really a successor to the classic sci-fi space series like the original Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly. I was really lucky to become friends with John Harlan Kim on Librarians and he’s just been the gift that keeps on giving on Pandora. We’re very lucky to have him back and I think he’s phenomenal in it.

(image: The CW/ViacomCBS)

Pandora has been described as a “Riverdale in Space.” What are your thoughts on that description and would you term it differently?

I kinda got a kick out of the review which dubbed it “Riverdale in Space” although this season Oliver Dench cheekily calls it “space spies,” but it’d probably be more accurate to call it “Star Trek meets James Bond” this season. We spend a lot more time in space and the show is highly serialized.

Actor dynamics. Who would you say stands out in your mind that you have the best working relationship with?’

I’m lucky that I have a great cast who I adore. They’ve been wonderful this year working under very difficult circumstances with the pandemic. They are all so talented. My big regret was that Oliver Dench who plays Xander was trying to get a D&D campaign together for all of us for this year and it never happened. Maybe next season. I’m also a big fan of our new cast members including Akshay Kumar, who is back as Jett, in a role that I think fans are going to find very surprising.

The Dauntless in ‘Pandora’ Season Two (image: The CW/ViacomCBS)

Favourite moment working on this show?

There are so many, but I’d have to say it was this year arriving for prep and stepping onto the bridge for the first time. This season we have a big starship, the Dauntless, and we built a ton of new sets, but there’s nothing like stepping onto the bridge of a spaceship that you’ve created. Our new production designer just killed it. The show looks so much better this year and we have some great new sets, some wonderful new cast, amazing visual effects, a fabulous score and some really compelling stories and action. I couldn’t be happier overall. I’m hoping we’ll rope in a whole new audience in addition to our devoted “Boxers” [the name Pandora fans have for themselves] who discovered the series last year. That really was hammered home to both the cast and to me when we arrived at Comic-Con last year a week after we premiered and ended up having a packed house for our Saturday night panel and two hours of non-stop autographing the next day where we had to cut-off the line so the cast could make their flight back to Europe.

Okay, last question: if you were to describe your creative process to someone, what would you say?

Deeply disturbing.

I have a hard time believing that last answer, but at the same time I’m envious that Mark Altman has such a detailed creative process. The projects this guy has devoted himself to make Pandora a project definitely worth your while to catch. With the pedigree of such geek culture-worthy works behind it, how could you not?

Pandora Season Two premiered in the U.S. on The CW Network on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. New episodes will stream the following day on the CW App. Viewers can enjoy all season one episodes anytime on the CW App, iTunes, and Amazon.

New episodes of the official Pandora podcast, Unboxing Pandora, is available every Sunday wherever you listen to podcasts.

Pandora can be seen in Canada on CTV’s Sci-Fi Channel. The series is also running on channels in the U.K. and around the world.

About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.