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Manny Coto's Odyssey

CINESCAPE chats with the creator of ODYSSEY 5

By Chris Wyatt     June 25, 2002


The cast of ODYSSEY 5
© 2002 Showtime
Showrunner Manny Coto conceived of his new series ODYSSEY 5 several years ago. The process of bringing it to the screen was practically an odyssey in and of itself. The series was originally set up with a major broadcast network, and for a while it looked like a go.

"But, as it often happens with these things, the deal fell apart," remarks Coto.

But the open-minded Coto was quick to seek alternative ways to exploit his story idea, which follows the adventures of a group of NASA astronauts who are sent five years back in time in order to prevent the Earth's destruction.

"After the network, it looked like ODYSSEY 5 was going to run as a feature film. George Clooney was involved for a while and we had some studios interested, but once again, the deals just feel apart."

Coto's perseverance proves that the race goes to the guy who's willing to run the longest. Coto's project eventually developed back into a TV series and was picked up by Showtime, with Peter Weller attached as NASA team leader Chuck Taggart.

"Showtime has been very supportive of the project," Coto explains. "They really gave us the resources we needed to do what we wanted to do."

No stranger to genre television, Coto freelanced for TALES FROM THE CRYPT before serving as a producer on both THE OUTER LIMITS and STRANGE WORLD. Coto used his experience on other shows to come up for the ODYSSEY 5 concept.

Peter Weller leads the cast of ODYSSEY 5. (2002 copyright Sue Schneider)

"Basically, I was just trying to think of a cool show idea, and I thought, well, what's the worst thing that could possibly happen? The end of the world, right? But there's a problem. If you start with the end of the world, where do you go from there? You go the only place you possibly can: into the past."

Coto wanted to make sure that his show was unique from all the other time traveling adventures that have been produced.

"It was too simple and too normal to have them physically journey back. I did want to have two versions of themselves, with them having to not bump into themselves and things. I wanted something more straight forward, something a little more realistic."

That's when Coto conceived of the idea of "consciousness downloading."

"Basically, this alien finds them. He has the capacity to send the astronauts' consciousnesses back. That is to say, their souls get taken out of them and put back into their same bodies back five years in the past. They are the same people all over again, but they have five more years of experience. They know how things are going to turn out, and they have to try to prevent it."

The astronauts find clues that lead them to believe the Earth's destruction was the result of a conspiracy inside of NASA. They only have obtuse clues to go on, and by the end of the pilot the crew's research has yielded more questions than it has answers.

"Ideally the series would last five seasons, five years. That would bring the crew from five years into the past, until the time when they witnessed the Earth's destruction. But now things have changed. Just as a result of them traveling into the past, things have changed.

"For example, they might do something that deals a blow to the conspiracy, and will slow down the timetable. Or, because the conspiracy knows someone's on to them, they might step up the timetable. The crew might inadvertently speed up their own planet's demise. They have no idea what could happen. Nothing is a given and they have to stay on their toes."

The Odyssey crew might not have many clues to go on, but Coto knows exactly what's happening.

"Yes, we have a detailed plan. I have everything worked out. I know what caused the Earth's destruction. I don't want to give anything away, but the obvious answers aren't going to be the correct ones. The real answers will slowly be revealed over the course of the series."

The cast of ODYSSEY 5

Coto intends to be parsimonious in his spoiler distribution. Not even the lead cast members know what's happening in the series. Coto wants them to learn the story piece by piece, the way that their characters would.

"Obviously we don't have all five seasons tightly scripted. We don't even have every arc detailed. But I do know where we will be, in terms of revealed knowledge, by the end of season one. And I know where we want to be by the end of season two, and three, and so on. You have to allow for inspiration, and for the show to grow, but there's a solid framework established for the series, all the way to the climax."

Coto, a long-time sci-fi fan himself, is proud of all the work that's being done on the series.

"It's going better than I even envisioned it would. The crew is great and the wonderful cast always surprises me. I couldn't even have imagined a cast this good... [The show's] got science fiction concepts, it's got personal drama, it'll even have a touch of humor. We intend to give our viewers one hell of a ride," concludes Coto.

Questions? Comments? Let us know what you think at feedback@cinescape.com.

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