Rockne O’Bannon On How His Farscape Experiences Led To His New CW Show, The Cult

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There are a few names out there whose involvement with a project guarantees my interest, at least at first. Joss Whedon is on that list, and damn near everybody else’s right now. Babylon 5’ s J. Michael Straczynski holds an honored spot. Supernatural creator Eric Kripke is pretty much the only reason I’m watching Revolution, and why I still hold out hope that it might get better. And then there’s Rocke O’Bannon, the guy responsible for Farscape. He could host a bar mitzvah and I’d show up to ask if I could buy a ticket. So the news that he’s got not one, but two new TV projects arriving in coming months has me more than a little beside myself.

The show we’ve been talking about a lot here at GFR is Syfy’s Defiance, a series that will play to many of O’Bannon’s Farscape strengths with the tale of humans and assorted aliens attempting to co-exist in the aftermath of a devastating war. He’s also behind The Cult, a CW series that is so meta it hurts. The Cult is about a TV series about a fictional cult leader who seems to be influencing the show-within-a-show’s fans in strange ways. It’s a premise that has the potential to explore the ever-evolving relationship between content creators and their fans, a sort of worst-case-scenario of what would happen if Joss Whedon — or Rockne O’Bannon, for that matter — started using his influence over fans in nefarious ways.

Speaking during the Television Critics Association press tour (and reported by IGN), O’Bannon ties a direct line between Farscape and The Cult — not necessarily their storylines, but rather his experiences with fandom as the show became a certified SF cult classic.

The origin of the show actually did come out of my Farscape experience where I witnessed the kind of incredible fan passion for a show and the ability of fans to kind of find each other through social media and connect up. And in the instance of Farscape — which is a very kind of benign science-fiction adventure show — but it started me thinking what if the show were something with a little bit darker edge and what kind of fans would that then draw? And so Farscape obviously was the kind of catalyst for the idea.

Executive producer Len Goldstein also sounded off on The Cult’s exploration of media, the internet, and fandom:

People watch them certainly more critically. They’re more interested in them. There certainly is a fan passion for a certain type of show. We’re looking at asking questions just generally about the relationship of television to society. And as the show goes on, we certainly ask some questions about do events in society influence what the shows are. For us, they’re really questions more than answers.

While the CW isn’t exactly the first outlet that comes to mind when thinking about such complicated, philosophical themes, so it will be interesting to see how well The Cult plays when it premieres, and whether the network will give it the time to find an audience. While it’s easy to make cracks at the CW’s expense, credit has to be given the network for allowing shows time to flourish that likely never would have survived the first season on another network. Shows such as Smallville and Supernatural have flourished for season after season, so hopefully The Cult will have time to intrigue viewers who might be confused by just what the mind-bending show is trying to do.

For O’Bannon’s part, he seems to be enjoying the “hall of mirrors” act of being the creator of a show with a devout fanbase who is now making a new show about a fictional show with a devout fanbase (oy). From the sound of things, The Cult will wring every last drop of brain-bending potential out of its high-concept premise.

From our perspective, there is nothing too meta. Part of the fun for me in creating this show was I kind of liken it to a roller coaster ride in that you’re on the ride and there’s twists and turns and all sorts of surprises. But the other thing about when you get on a roller coaster, and one of the pleasures, I think, is that for that minute and a half, or whatever it is, you kind of lose control of the experience. And for me in creating Cult, one of the things that I really got excited about was how to create a show where we kind of hook into an audience and create not just an emotional experience for them and perhaps a kind of intriguing idea, but also create a visceral experience for the audience and to really kind of try to break down, take the glass away from between the television show and the audience and really kind of take away that control.

You can read more from O’Bannon and other Cult cast and crew over at IGN. The Cult is set to premiere February 19th on the CW. You can check out a trailer and image gallery below.


  1. Aaron Smith says:

    I’m glad the bad guy is getting another shot after Heroes: Season 4. I loved Heroes, but the whole premise of the carnival seemed weak after 3 seasons of world changing plots. He seemed like a good actor burdened with unstellar writing.

    • Evan Fowler says:

      His name is Robert Knepper. He’s a fantastic actor. If you’ve never seen Carnivale or Prison Break, I’d recommend giving them a shot. He’s really good on both. Particularly Prison Break.

  2. Might want to fix a few typos in Rockne in the first paragraph

  3. jed_hoyer says:

    why would o’bannon even work with syfy? can’t be money because they were to cheap to pay for farscape.

  4. redacted says:

    Rockne.O’Bannon is one of the most over-rated television writers to have ever gained a following.

    While I did enjoy many aspects of Farscape, there were some glaring plot holes, and innumerable instances of truly awful writing (amateurish plotting/awkwardly forced character devices/etc). If you boil most fan’s love for the show down to it’s essence, you’ll frequently find an attraction to the Farscape universe itself (a setting largely based on the work of Giger, visually speaking), along with the actor’s portrayals of their characters. The plot lines? Frequently disjointed, contradictory, and ham-fisted.

    Even the most ardent fan will grudgingly admit that much of season’s 3 and 4 don’t really make sense. The characters themselves showed very little linear development, each bouncing back and forth/to and fro in their motivations and personalities. Add in O’Bannon’s penchant for injecting his religion and right wing perspective, and the show is something of an aggravating mess overall.

    The author of this piece name checks some great writers (including the perennially under-rated JMS), but I think there’s a bit of projection in his assessment of O’Bannon’s talent.

    O’Bannon’s glory is reflected glory; his reputation gained in no small part from the contributions of those with whom he’s savvy enough to work.

    ‘Cult’? Gone.

    ‘Defiance’? Soon to follow, I’d wager. Every internet board dedicated to it’s discussion is thick with complaints about the terrible writing/plotting/characters.

    ‘Revolution’? It’s only gotten worse. A development that coincided rather tellingly with TPTB’s decision to employ Rockne O’Bannon as an Executive Producer.

    Rockne O’Bannon does not belong in the constellation of writers observed in this article’s night sky.