Nat Geo Makes a Return Trip to MARS

National Geographic’s acclaimed series MARS, from executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, is back for season two. Showrunner Dee Johnson talks about changes this time around – and how in at least one way, going to Mars isn’t that different from Nashville.

Cynopsis: How will season two of MARS  differ from season one? 

Dee Johnson: Season One took us on the harrowing journey of a scientific team getting to Mars and settling there. Season Two deals with living on Mars in the long term — physically, emotionally and professionally. But the biggest difference between seasons is the arrival of a second colony sent by a privately held company with very different interests in mind for the planet. It’s through this lens that examine what role human nature plays in this brave new world. Are we doomed to make the same mistakes we made on Earth, or might we actually learn from them this time? 

Cynopsis: Are there lessons learned from season one that prompted changes?

Johnson: I think it’s more a question of adjusting to where the story of season one left us. With the focus now on our scientists having lived on Mars for quite some time, the nature of their personal stories had to change. And the documentary portion of the show had to change with it. We know a lot about rocketing off of our planet, but no one is living on Mars yet. So while there’s plenty of science and theory, there’s also a fair amount of speculation about what living there for a decade would be like. As such, we opted to key in on real life characters here on Earth who mirrored — in either motivation or mission — some of the issues our fictitious characters were facing.

Cynopsis: How was creating MARS different from your work on ER and Nashville?

Johnson: On one hand, it couldn’t have been more different — in terms of genre and the show’s hybrid nature. On the other hand, it’s still all about characters and story-telling. I’m no rocket scientist, but fortunately we had access to them! Consultants are essential to almost all shows, whether it be doctors when one is writing for ER, or music business folks when writing for Nashville. On Mars, we were blessed to have amazing technical advisors to help us anchor our fiction in as much reality as possible while still allowing us to entertain. 

Cynopsis: What are the biggest challenges, production and storyline-wise, with MARS?

Johnson: Merging documentary and scripted required a lot of planning and flexibility. And while it was challenging, it was also incredibly rewarding. They’re just such different mediums, particularly in terms of how each is produced. Telling scripted stories with less running time than most one hour dramas was a little tricky, too. But I think the toughest part about doing a show that’s set on Mars, is recreating the planet which involved a fair amount of green screen as well as shooting in the deserts of Morocco.

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