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Interview: Sean Jablonski

Are UFOs real? Do aliens exist? Are we alone? Those are the questions we’ve been asking ourselves for decades. For every person who believes that we are not alone, there is someone who believes it’s all in their minds.

From 1952 to 1969, the United States Air Force had a program called Project Blue Book. The new History Channel series of the same name is based on the true, top-secret investigations into Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) and related phenomena. The series premieres on Tuesday, January, 8th at 10/9c.

We had the opportunity to sit down with showrunner Sean Jablonski. In our very interesting conversation, we discuss how he became involved with Project Blue Book, what he hopes fans take away from the first season of the series and if he believes that life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Pop Culture Principle - Before coming on board Project Blue Book, had you always had an interest in UFOs and things of that nature?

Sean Jablonski - Yes. I would say UFOs and the phenomenon has been something that I’ve been very interested in for a long time. I’ve told the story in some interviews about having a very vivid memory of a UFO when I was ten years old while I was living in New York City. I can still see these hexagonal shapes in the sky. About six years ago I even took a solo trip to Machu Picchu to see for myself if aliens built those structures (jury’s still out for me). I’ve read books, articles and seen countless videos on YouTube about the phenomena so I consider myself more informed than most. When I first sat down with David O’Leary, we swapped cases and anecdotes all afternoon. In short, I guess you could say I walk the walk.

Pop Culture Principle - Can you tell us how you became involved with Project Blue Book?

Sean Jablonski - As a showrunner, I get a lot of calls about coming onto to other people’s projects who might not have the experience of how to run a show and help them fulfill a vision. That being the case, I see a lot of mediocre material or just ideas that I find hard to connect to. When my agent sent me the script, he called it “X-files meets MadMen.” I was hooked immediately.

My first meeting was with David, then with the studio and the producers from Robert Zemeckis’ company. I think my passion for the material was evident and I lobbied hard for the position. From the very beginning, it just felt like fate that I was supposed to be a part of this project and I’ve never been happier both personally and creatively with how things have played out.

Pop Culture Principle - When doing your research and preparing for the series, did you get a chance to talk to Dr. Allen Hynek’s sons and what involvement, if any, did they have with Project Blue Book?

Sean Jablonski - Paul and Joel Hynek were involved very early on in the development process. For myself and everyone involved, having their involvement and blessing was going to mean a lot -- especially since we’re basing it on their father’s life. Obviously, we had to take some creative liberties, but we also wanted to be true to Hynek’s character. Hearing stories from Paul and Joel about their dad and their experiences at home dealing with a parent who studied the phenomenon was invaluable when we approached the story. I believe they even sent Aidan a tie of their father’s and he wore it during the pilot. They’ve been incredible resources and also understand the difference between creating an entertaining TV show vs. creating a documentary about their father. To that end, it’s been a great partnership.

Pop Culture Principle - In a recent interview, you mentioned that you believe in authenticity over accuracy. Can you talk a little about what that means to you and your work on Project Blue Book?

Sean Jablonski - I’ve had the privilege of developing a couple other historic pieces in the past (one about Nikola Tesla and one about Napoleon). What I learned from writing those scripts is that if you follow just the documented history, you’ll wind up boring an audience. Rarely does the trajectory of real-life stand up to scripted drama when it comes to delivering the right emotional impact at the right time and delivering the twists and turns you need when you need it. At the end of the day, we are trying to engage an audience. Making a boring show but insisting it is 100 percent accurate won’t help you in the ratings and the audience won’t care. They want to be engaged and entertained.

That said, we never tried to invent something so outrageous that didn’t appear in books, movies or notes from Hynek’s files. It’s a fine line sometimes and I take the responsibility seriously (especially because anyone not familiar with Hynek will inevitably assume a lot of what they see could be true). But I think if you look at many great biopics and stories inspired by true events, the writer, actors, and producers strive to make something that honors the source but isn’t always a slave to it either. Like the Hippocratic oath, I think we follow the “first do no harm” aspect.

Pop Culture Principle - Although Project Blue Book takes place in the 1950s, do you think that the series is relevant to what is happening in our country today?

Sean Jablonski - Because the UFO phenomena is still very much in the news, I think a lot of what Hynek and Quinn investigate is relevant. Perhaps the most relevant part would be the “fake news” aspect of it all. Project Blue Book was one of the original fake news organizations. In many ways, their mission was to tell people what they saw wasn’t necessarily what they saw. It was a way to calm (or control) the masses. That aspect and how we assign that “mission” to our generals under the guise of national security has a lot of relevance to today, I think.

Pop Culture Principle - It would seem that the sole purpose of Project Blue Book was to debunk any stories about the existences of extraterrestrials and UFOs. Would you agree with that?

Sean Jablonski - I think there was a dual purpose at play. Yes, debunking the existence of UFOs for THE PUBLIC was primary for Project Blue Book. But at the same time, the Air Force and the government were able to study those same case files and draw their own conclusions. There was also plenty going on behind the scenes that took a very different point of view... The Majestic Twelve, for example (which is very much a part of our show). Truman assembled these high-ranking military and civilian personnel to essentially monitor Blue Book and then study the phenomenon behind the scenes. That’s also where you get “The Men In Black” idea as well.

Pop Culture Principle - Working on Project Blue Book, were there any cases that you read about for the series that totally blew your mind?

Sean Jablonski - There’s quite a few... but they don’t all live in the 50s era so we haven’t been able to touch them yet. The Phoenix Lights, the mass sighting in Papua New Guinea, the Rendlesham Forest incident. Those are all so vividly reported with very credible witnesses it’s impossible to think they were just made up. There are, however, two cases we do touch on in the first season. One was based on all the sightings over Nuclear Missile bases and the reports of missiles going into launch mode when these lights would show up. The second was the mass sighting over DC over two consecutive weekends where Truman scrambled fighter jets to intercept. That was front-page headlines and a huge piece of American history. Yet most people have never heard of it.

Pop Culture Principle - Already there are comparisons of Project Blue Book to The Xfiles. Do you see that comparison as something that helps or possibly be a hindrance to Project Blue Book?

Sean Jablonski - I can absolutely see the temptation to want to compare us to The X-files. But that show was its own unique brand and dealt with a much broader scope of cases that, honestly, just wouldn’t fit in our universe (pun intended). We are very clear that our show, characters, and cases are based on real-life people and events. The X-files could never make that claim so they are not bound by the same constraints we are.

But those restraints are also our strengths, I feel. And since there is so much to mine with respect to the cases, the people and the time period, I think we scratch a different itch for our audience in that they can go online and see how our show is more about looking at the phenomena through the lens of history rather than just creating cases from urban legends and the like. In short, I think comparing us to The X-files is a bit unfair, but also inevitable. I’d hope we could be evaluated on our own merits.

Pop Culture Principle - Do you believe that life exists elsewhere in the universe and why do you think some people still think that we are the only beings that exist in the universe?

Sean Jablonski - Me personally? I do. I believe there is other life out there. In terms of what kind and where that is still very much a mystery to me. Later on in his life, Hynek came more to believe that extraterrestrial life was tied to another dimension we couldn’t necessarily see than about little green men traveling from light years away only to just dart around above our heads. All those other theories aside about how they live among us already, I tend to lean toward that theory of Hynek’s and believe there are more mysteries to the universe we just don’t fully comprehend yet that have little to do with space travel.

In terms of why others might shun the idea of extraterrestrial life... it’s a hard one to answer. Again, it’s tempting to say things like “they’re just skeptics” or that “it’s based on a real fear that accepting the possibility of other life forms puts your own world in flux...” In some ways, I think people are just naturally unwilling to believe something they can’t see with their own eyes (and who could blame them?). And if we’ve learned anything from the culture of Trolls who leave comments all over Twitter, YouTube et al it’s that there’s always going to be a segment of the population that just likes to be contrary.

Pop Culture Principle - What can fans look forward to with the first season of Project Blue Book?

Sean Jablonski - I think you can look forward to a ratcheting up of the conspiracy behind the cover-up of the phenomenon. I think you can expect the investigation into the cases to continually peel back the onion of the larger forces at work -- terrestrial and otherwise. More importantly, I think you can expect to go on a fun ride with twists and turns that will engage and entertain every step of the way.

Pop Culture Principle - What message, if any, do you want the viewers to take away after watching the first season of Project Blue Book?

Sean Jablonski - I really want people to comprehend the significance of the UFO phenomenon and realize it’s something that should be taken seriously. So seriously, that our own government created a special program to handle the thousands of reported sightings they were getting every year (and to this day). Being skeptical about the phenomenon is just being lazy. I hear a lot from people that “if there are aliens, wouldn’t there be proof by now?”

I’d counter that proof has existed for a long time about the possibility of them or, at the very least, a continuing phenomenon that defies explanation. Too many credible people and too many credible accounts cannot neatly fit into a skeptic’s viewpoint. I’m not asking people to believe in aliens, but to be open to the possibility and question what those in power say about the phenomenon.

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We would like to send a big thank you to Sean Jablonski for taking the time and answering our questions about Project Blue Book. The series will premiere on the History Channel on Tuesday, January 8th at 10/9c!

**All photos courtesy of Eduardo Araquel/Matthias Clamer/HISTORY**

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