Stephanie Leonidas in 'Defiance'
Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy
"Defiance," Syfy's new television series/transmedia project set to premiere on air on April 15, may be the medium's most ambitious attempt at cross-platform storytelling to date. "Defiance," which is set in a near future in which humanity and various alien species cautiously coexist, is half TV show and half video game, the latter component an MMO shooter produced by Trion Worlds, the developer and published reponsible for "Rift." This kind of narrative convergence tends to get talked about more than actually put in practice by mainstream studios and networks -- the Wachowskis, with their canonically sound "Matrix" video games, have so far been the benchmark. Talking about "Defiance" at the TCA Winter Press Tour, Syfy president Dave Howe described the property as "one world, but with two ways in."
Executive producer and showrunner Kevin Murphy went into more detail about how "Defiance" would work, comparing it to reading Batman comics and/or Superman ones and the added layer of context that would bring to their shared Justice League adventures. "The Trion game has its own narrative. It has its own storylines. Our show has its own dramatic storytelling needs, its own storylines.
"But if you choose to partake of both, because we exist in a shared universe with dual portals or entrances, you get a richer, fuller, more nuanced experience because when some huge catastrophic weather event happens in the TV show, if you’ve been playing along in the game, something the player has done actually put those events into motion. And you have that extra additive experience."
"It’s all referential," added Syfy's president of content Mark Stern. "So if you know about both, it helps the experience and it adds to it. But you do not need to know anything about one to enjoy the other, which is one of the nice things about it. I think that’s and then having done that, there’s some great crossover opportunities."
The Western-tinged show stars Grant Bowler ("Liz & Dick") as Jeb Nolan, who becomes a kind of sheriff of the city formerly known as St. Louis after he arrives with his adopted alien daughter (Stephanie Leonidas). Castmembers Julie Benz, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray and Mia Kirschner were also in attendance at TCA, where Murphy announced that all the TV characters would eventually show up in the parallel narrative of the game, which takes place in San Francisco.
As for how it looks, "Defiance" is reminiscent of plenty of other franchises that came before it, from "Firefly" to "Babylon 5" (Murphy claims "Paper Moon" as a major influence on the central father-daughter relationship). Its transmedia structure looks more immediately compelling than the property itself, though it may have some interesting real world parallels. Kirshner described "Defiance" as "an immigrant tale... a story, for me, about what happens when these cultures, who have never intersected, come together in one place and how they get along. What I like about the show is the element of realism and the culture clashes that happen, the sad violence that comes along with it, the stories that and the beautiful reconciliation that comes along with it."
In terms of world-building, "Defiance" is going big, with its seven alien races and elaborate history of warfare and environmental destruction. "It's the first show where I’ve ever had the need for a mythology coordinator as a salaried member of my staff," said Murphy. "And of course, when we decide we’re going to do something, we are instantly our mythology coordinator Brian Alexander is on the phone with his counterpart at Trion."
"They’re talking back and forth and they’re basically doing what you do in Congress, where you reconcile the Senate and House version of the bills and figuring out how those things can work. We plan. On the writers’ room wall we have the dates of when we’re airing and then we have what’s going on the Trion storyline at that time. And then we look at how an event that’s happening that’s the big signature mission for the Trion game -- how that can then carom to become a crossover event in the TV show? Then we can send something back into the video game that will affect how the players how the players do."