LOS ANGELES—The mantra of the Fox series "The X-Files" was the truth was out there, but then the production spent episode after episode dealing with out-of-this-world creatures and mythical characters from other worlds. The new History Channel series "Project Blue Book" also looks at close encounters with UFOs, but everything is actually based on true events.
The program's basis follows the experiences of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a college professor who was recruited by the U.S. Air Force to head a secret operation known as Project Blue Book. The government program looked into thousands of reports regarding unidentified flying objects, with more than 700 of those reports still classified as unsolved.
Hynek's books were an inspiration for director Steven Spielberg to make the 1977 feature film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." "Project Blue Book" executive producer Sean Jablonski stresses there is no need to fictionalize the stories because the truth in the declassified reports is so compelling.
"There's so many unanswered questions that we get to play around with," Jablonski says. "We're also making a great TV show, so we want to make sure that it's got some wonderful drama. And we have such great character interactions, too, that it's a nice dovetail."
Among the reports featured in the 10-episode series include the Flatwoods Monster incident in West Virginia, the Gorman Dogfight of Fargo, N.D., the Lubbock Lights of Lubbock, Texas, and the Chiles-Whitted UFO encounter of Montgomery, Ala.
"Project Blue Book" creator David O'Leary was inspired by the 12,000 cases the program looked into from 1952 to 1969. It wasn't just people sitting on their back porches who reported incidents, but also commercial airline pilots with trained eyes.
Aidan Gillen ("Game of Thrones"), who plays Hynek, likes that the series is based on actual events because he knows the truth is often far stranger than fiction. And the truth that is revealed through "Project Blue Book" ends up being that actual events can take as many twists and turns as a work of fiction.
Gillen's research into Hynek showed while his theories on alien visitation changed over the years, his basic opinion never wavered.
"I think, certainly starting out, Hynek thought that the nuts and bolts—the idea of this as an actual physical craft coming from somewhere else—was pretty unlikely," Gillen says. "But he did have these other beliefs. And especially when he was younger. He was reading a lot of Rudolf Steiner and had an interest in the Rosicrucians and the idea that there are other dimensions or that there's a veil between this world and something else.
"I know this seems pretty farfetched, but is it impossible as anything? I don't know. I don't know what they are either."
Joining Gillen in the cast is Neal McDonough ("Legends of Tomorrow"), who portrays Gen. James Harding, a confident and perceptive general responsible for heading Project Blue Book. As a devout Christian, McDonough's view of the world is based on the Bible. But working on "Project Blue Book" has made him think.
"What if there was another plan? What if there are other things out there? I look at the sky now with my kids and my wife and I think differently after doing a show like this. And it's not just because it's a great looking show. It's the '50s. It's got all the eye candy. It's got the wardrobe. It's got the sets. It's got the cars. It looks great," McDonough says. "But the amazing thing about what History has done with (executive producer) Robert Zemeckis is they put together this show that makes us think.
"And to have a show like that give us pause and think what else is out there. Are there other things? I love that about this show and I think that's what the audience is really going to gravitate towards."
As to whether or not UFOs are real, McDonough says the more important point to remember is the public is fascinated with the subject. He calls the curiosity about whether there is something out there is just part of being human.