Hightlights from My Conversation With J. Michael Straczynski

Late last spring, I moderated a public lecture and interview with J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), the writer and producer known for his contributions to television (Babylon 5), comics (Thor, The Twelve), and film (The Changeling). Straczynski was speaking as part of the Julius Schwartz Lecture Series which MIT hosts in tribute to a long-time editor at DC Comics who spent his lifetime supporting genre entertainment. Straczynski was, as always, engaging in addressing questions posed by me or by members of the MIT audience and the discussion ranged across his career and addressed everything from his experiences interacting with fans online to the challenges of sustaining continuity across the full run of a complex science fiction series and explored everything from his early work for animated series such as He-Man and Ghost Busters and what he learned from Rod Serling and Norman Corwin to his forthcoming work on Ninja Assassian and Lensman.

The Comparative Media Studies program recently posted videos of the full event on line. They are broken down into three parts -- the first features Straczynski's opening remarks to the audience which center on the importance of being willing to risk failure in order to achieve creative rewards; the second features my one on one interview with Straczynski and the third features the question and answer period with the audience.

Altogether, the original program ran for 2 1/2 hours, thanks the persistence of the audience and the endurance of the speaker. The webcast version offers more extensive highlights from the significant longer exchange.

Today, I thought I would share some highlights from the exchange with you. In this first segment from the audience question/answer period, JMS speaks about how his ability as a showrunner to preserve continuity on Babylon 5 have been core to his personality since childhood, although he has not always been awarded for this obsessive attention to detail.

Here, JMS offers his predictions about what serialized television drama will be like five years from now and it sounds very much like what many of us are calling transmedia entertainment -- a form which breaks down the barriers between platforms and taps into the desire of audiences to more actively participate in the life of the franchise.

Here, I asked him about the persistence of themes of religion across his writing for Babylon 5, Jeremiah, and Twilight Zone. He describes it in terms of playing fair with his characters and his audiences.

JMS speaks about the "breakthroughs" Babylon 5 made in its representations of alien cultures on American science fiction television.

JMS explores how the innovations of Babylon 5 reflected his own tastes and interests as a fan of British television SF series such as Doctor Who, Blake's 7, and The Prisoner.

These segments do not begin to scratch the surface. There's a lot more to learn from this gifted creative artist who has done substantive work across multiple media and genres.