Just when TV viewers may have had their fill of summer escapist fare, ABC brings to the air a series of four original films as current as today’s headlines, but with all the wonder and imagination of the best sci-fi literature, with the 10 p.m. Aug. 4 debut of “Masters of Science Fiction,” Starz Media’s John W. Hyde and Industry Entertainment’s Keith Addis jointly announced today.
Featuring stories from some of the most creative minds in science fiction literature, talented actors and directors and hosted by world renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, “Masters of Science Fiction” is unlike any program on the air, on broadcast or cable networks. It’s an entertaining, crowd-pleasing collection of movies that mix powerful ideas, cinematic production values and peak performances. With a line-up of talent in front of and behind the cameras that is laden with top awards, this is indeed a collection of “masters.”
“Masters of Science Fiction” is produced by Starz Media in association with Industry Entertainment. Executive producers are John W. Hyde, Keith Addis, Andrew Deane and Brad Mendelsohn.
First up, at 10 p.m. Aug. 4, is “A Clean Escape,” based on a short story by Nebula Award-winner John Kessel (“Another Orphan,” “Buffalo”), written for TV by Emmy nominee Sam Egan (“The Outer Limits,” “Jeremiah”) and helmed by Oscar-nominated director Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond, For the Boys). A dying Dr. Deanna Evans (two-time Oscar nominee and double Emmy-winner Judy Davis; “Life With Judy: Me and My Shadows,” Marie Antoinette) refuses to believe that her patient, Robert Havelmann (Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Sam Waterston; “Law & Order,” The Killing Fields), cannot remember the last 25 years of his life. It remains unclear why she has been so obsessed with this particular patient until the final, shocking conclusion that may just have resonance with the current global crisis.
It’s followed at 10 p.m. on Aug. 11 by “The Awakening,” based on a short story by Howard Fast (Spartacus) and written and directed by Michael Petroni (The Dangerous Life of Altar Boys). It stars Emmy nominee Terry O’Quinn (‘Lost,” Stepfather) and Elisabeth Rohm (“Law & Order”) in a story set in the middle of a ferocious firefight outside of Baghdad, where U.S. soldiers discover a mysterious body one that they can’t even identify as human. Swiftly, all over the earth, more such creatures appear and begin to communicate. With this contact, the world is forced to choose between peace and destruction.
Next, at 10 p.m. on Aug. 18, is “Jerry Was a Man,” from a short story by seven-time Hugo Award winner Robert A. Heinlein (“Stranger in a Strange Land,” “Starship Troopers”), written and directed by Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Michael Tolkin (The Player, The Rapture). It tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Van Vogel (Golden Globe nominee Malcolm McDowell; A Clockwork Orange, “Heroes”; and Emmy nominee Anne Heche; “Men in Trees,” John Q), a wealthy couple for whom pleasure is their only work; mundane or dangerous chores are done by anthropoids. Somehow, Mrs. Van Vogel’s dormant compassion is awakened by an anthropoid named Jerry. What traits would prove that Jerry is, indeed, a man?
Rounding out the limited series at 10 p.m. on Aug. 25 is “The Discarded,” which is based on a short story by seven-time Hugo Award winner, three-time Nebula Award winner and Science Fiction Grand Master Laureate Harlan Ellison (“A Boy and His Dog,” “Star Trek”), written for the screen by Ellison and Oscar nominee Josh Olson (A History of Violence) and directed by Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: First Contact). It stars James Denton (“Desperate Housewives”), two-time Oscar nominee John Hurt (V For Vendetta) and Emmy and Tony Award-winner Brian Dennehy (Assault on Precinct 13, Cocoon) in a story of despised minorities forever adrift in the darkness of outer space. As a last resort born out of their loneliness and despair they are forced to make an ominous pact with those responsible for their plight, in the hope that they will finally be offered refuge at home on Earth.
Tying all of these individual stories together is Prof. Stephen Hawking, the Cambridge University professor best known for his work in cosmology and black holes, whose bestselling book “A Brief History of Time” entertained the general public by illuminating the complexities of astrophysics. Yet for all the hard science that has earned him acclaim as arguably the world’s most renowned and respected thinkers, he also has a love of the fantastic. “I have always wanted to know what is out there, to explore the universe, and what is beyond,” Hawking notes. “I read a lot of science fiction when I was younger, [and] now I write it, in a sense.”
Hawking’s opening and closing narration to the “Masters of Science Fiction” films brings scientific authority, along with a sense of wonder, to the programs. His remarks make you think, as befits a master of science. And the movies make you think too, even while they provide exceptional entertainment. And it’s no wonder; after all, the storytellers are, quite simply, “The Masters of Science Fiction.”