Kenneth Johnson’s new book, The Man of Legends is now available at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.
Last week I posted the first part of my interview with Kenneth Johnson, author of the recently released novel The Man of Legends, focusing on the new book and its inspirations. But Kenneth Johnson’s long career as a writer, producer, and director of television and movies deserves its own section. Shows like The Incredible Hulk, Alien Nation, The Bionic Woman, and V: The Original Series are gems among 1970s and ‘80s science-fiction television and continue to have an enormous influence today. I expected to hear some interesting stories about making those programs when I interviewed him, especially considering how timely some of them continue to be (seriously, go give V: The Original Miniseries as look again and you’ll be stunned at how much its themes stand out), but I didn’t expect to hear a story about Richard Nixon as well!
Q&A with Kenneth Johnson, Part 2
You mentioned you were one of the youngest producers on the lot when you were working at Universal. You were in your early thirties when you produced The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, and The Incredible Hulk.
Yeah, and I had had half a career before that. I came out of the Drama Department at what is now Carnegie Mellon University, then Carnegie Tech, which had a sort of renowned Department of Drama. I was a graduate in directing; there was no film or TV or anything like that. It was strictly “theater!” you know. Everybody there, except me, sort of looked down on TV and film. Everybody except me and a couple other guys: Jamie Cromwell, a wonderful and well-known actor out here who played the farmer in Babe and so many other things since then; and my dear friend Steven Bochco, who was a classmate and came to California a little bit ahead of me and helped me get my foot in the door at Universal.
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The Man of Legends is now available at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.
The title of the novel The Man of Legends refers to its central character and one of its numerous narrators: an enigmatic figure with a history stretching back to the ancient world. But the title can also apply to the book’s author, Kenneth Johnson. Although not as much a household word as Gene Roddenberry or Rod Serling, Johnson has left an indelible mark on a generation who grew up watching the shows he produced, developed, wrote, and directed: The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, V: The Original Miniseries, Alien Nation…
Basically, for people of my generation, Kenneth Johnson was our secret Gene Roddenberry, our hidden-in-plain-sight Rod Serling.
The Man of Legends feels like a declaration that Johnson’s legacy is no longer secret or hiding. Although he’s published novels before (most recently V: The Second Generation, a 2008 continuation of the 1983 miniseries), The Man of Legends is an original story that reads as a collation of the humanism in Johnson’s television and movie work. If a story about a cursed man forced to wander the world, helping people along the way even if it backfires on him, instantly calls up Bill Bixby as David Banner in The Incredible Hulk television show, it’s no coincidence. Johnson even tucks in a few direct references to the TV series. (“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”)
But The Man of Legends isn’t a retread. It’s a summation and expansion. This is unmistakably the work of the author who brought emotional power to David Banner’s lonely quest to be the best person he could while coping with an unconquerable rage and a relentless pursuer. But it’s also unmistakably the work of the author who crafted an anti-fascist epic about a panorama of people struggling against an abusive power (who also happened to be zoophagous alien reptiles). If you recall Kenneth’s Johnson’s brand of humanism and science-fiction excitement from his television work, The Man of Legends may be the best new novel you read in 2017.
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