That’s the general consensus among the writers who led the charge during the five-season run of “Alias.” Josh Appelbaum, who served as a co-executive producer on the show, said, “it would be amazing to do it. The right idea would have to come. We’ve all talked to J.J. [Abrams] about it.”
But, between that or an “Alias” spinoff, one thing is key: Garner would have to be there in the iconic role of Sydney Bristow. “It felt that if it wasn’t Jen, it wasn’t ‘Alias.'”
Appelbaum was one of several “Alias” writers on stage Saturday at the ATX Television Festival to recount the show’s history.
The panel kicked off with the unlikely story of how Sydney sported bright red hair at the start of “Alias.” Apparently executive producer Abrams (who didn’t make it out to Austin) knew he wanted her to have that hair, but it wasn’t easy.
Sarah Caplan, who produced the show’s first four seasons, recounted how the show went through three red hair wigs but still couldn’t find the right one. Then one day, Abrams, Caplan and other crewmembers were scouting locations at UCLA when a student walked by with “badly dyed hair,” she recalled. “It was red at the bottom and blonde on top.”
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Caplan said she went up to the girl and asked if she could snip a piece of her hair. It wasn’t going to be that easy, however. “She looked at me and goes, ‘No! I’ve grown this hair, it has been with me for 14 years.’ I say, ‘I only want a little piece, we’ll pay you for it!’ She’s very smart. Finally she agrees we can buy a little bit of the hair.”
The problem: Caplan didn’t have much cash on hand. “I rustle $39 from various members of the crew. I gave her the money and was allowed to take a tiny little sample and that’s how it became her hair.”
Ken Olin admitted that “Alias” was a bit convoluted and complicated over the years, but that it was Abrams’ passion to write whatever he wanted and not be constrained by preconceived notions.
“I thought it was the best pilot I had ever seen,” Olin said. “It was so sure of what it wanted to be, with an incredible sense of humor, an incredible cast, it was so exciting and fantastic. I never read a movie like this, let alone TV.”
Caplan admitted that the Rambaldi storyline – including the “Rambaldi device,” which she called a “spinning tomato” – even confused her over time. “I didn’t know that this would follow me for several years,” she said. “I could not explain it now.”
“Alias” aired from 2001 to 2006, and premiering so soon after 9/11 impacted the show, Olin said. “We were filming on 9/11,” he said. “It was so devastating. It was a cosmic shift in the way all of us live. And there we were, doing a show. I was doing an episode that ended with Sydney in a hood, holding a bomb.”
The writers also reminisced over the time Abrams yelled at them over Sydney being chased into a cornfield as guys shoot at her (“Nobody hits her? What the hell, is this magic corn?”); how Abrams’ obsession with the British version of “The Office” led to Ricky Gervais’ guest spot; how guest star Quentin Tarantino kept accidentally hitting Garner; and how the show had to switch out its post-Super Bowl episode in Season 2 because it was too dark.
The episode that wound up there, which reset the show’s storyline, became an inspiration to the writers, Olin said. “At any moment we could turn the show on its head, and we followed that path.”
Appelbaum also revealed that the show had to cut a big finale storyline at the end of Season 3 because the idea got leaked online. (In the original plan, Sydney was stuck on a mountain with Jack and Vaughn, and after an accident, as they’re dangling on the side, she has to choose which one’s rope to cut.)
When the idea leaked, “we got called back from break to re-do the finale,” remembered Monica Owusu-Breen.
Why did the show have to end after Season 5? “A lot of things go into that,” she said. “Jennifer was a huge star, and now in her 30s, she really wanted a family. It was practical things. After five years her contract was up. It seemed right. We had burned through so much story.”
The ATX TV Festival runs June 8 – 11 in Austin, Texas. IndieWire will be on the ground throughout, so check back for more coverage this weekend.