Eureka was the first show to be considered appointment viewing on the SyFy network for many cable subscribers. Like Mad Men for AMC, Eureka caused the industry to take notice of an entire channel for the first time, thanks to its clever writing, great characters, and unique blend of science fiction and soap. We had a chance to ask a few choice questions of one of the show’s creators, Jaime Paglia, and learned all about his roots, interests, tastes, and what is next now that Eureka ended its brilliant run.
Tell us about your background. How did you get started in the entertainment industry?
I went to UC Santa Cruz, intending to be an econ/business major. That lasted exactly three weeks. I discovered the theater arts/film program and found my calling, adding a minor in English literature so I could feel better educated. The first job I landed was as an assistant in feature film publicity at MGM Pictures. I got to know all of the studio executives and started doing script coverage on the side, which led to a director of development job. The development process made me realize I was still a frustrated writer, so I took a gamble and partnered with one of my college buddies on a feature film spec that we sold to New Line Cinema. That led to another feature pitch sale to Mark Canton with Akiva Goldsman Producing. Then there was the opportunity to do something in television. We sold Eureka as a pitch to SyFy. That was nine years ago and it has been a full-time job ever since. Now that Eureka is coming to an end after seven years on the air, I am developing a number of new television and film projects with some amazing people, including a new series we sold to the SyFy channel that I am incredibly excited about.
What were your favorite shows or movies when you were growing up?
I have always been a fan of the character-driven dramedies. I grew up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, Warrenton, Oregon, population 2,200. Hour-long shows like Northern Exposure, Twin Peaks, and The X-Files ,were favorites. Eureka is in many ways a hybrid.
Do you think any of them influenced your future career plans?
Eureka has elements of all of them. I like grounding the drama in the characters, but with a sense of humor so the audience can suspend their disbelief about the sci-fi elements in the show. The science-fiction device is always the catalyst for the character stories, not the story itself. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.
Tell us about your use of science advisers on Eureka. When do you use them? Have there been times when you could not follow their advice? Has The Exchange helped to connect you with scientists?
Kevin Grazier is our science adviser and he has been great to work with. He knows the difference between good science and good science fiction and how to find the balance. We always try to make the science accurate, even if it is theoretical. We run story areas by Kevin, and he keeps us updated on the latest research that could make for interesting story arenas. We always manage to find a compromise that works, through creating a second sun over Eureka or reversing the magnetic poles of the planet definitely made him work harder to keep us honest.
I have met so many amazing scientists through The Exchange. It really is an invaluable resource for us and I cannot say enough about how great everyone is to work with.
How do you come up with story ideas for the show?
Everywhere. We read science magazines, scour the Internet for the latest science research trends, and brainstorm ideas. Sometimes we want to pay homage to a sci-fi trope or classic storyline. Then once we have a science story area, we try to pair it thematically with the character stories we want to tell in that episode. Characters always come first.
Eureka has a lot of really devoted fans. You seem to have cultivated a close relationship with them, answering their questions about the characters and storylines and keeping them up to date about the show’s production schedule. What are the benefits from your communication with them?
Sci-fi fans are the best. They are smart and passionate and unbelievably supportive. They hold us to a higher standard and we do not ever want to let them down. It is such a pleasure to be able to chat with them. It only deepens their connection to the show. And we would not have jobs without our fans.
Have you heard from scientists who watch the show? It would be interesting to know what kind of feedback/comments you received from them.
We have had unbelievably positive feedback from the science community. I was invited to tour Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and brainstorm science ideas with some of their researchers who are fans of the show. I spoke on a panel at the American Chemical Society National Meeting with writers from Breaking Bad and House and our science advisers. They really appreciate that we made the extra effort to get the science right.
Why should film and television projects consider science advising? What is the advantage of using real science in film or television?
Every story is better if the information is accurate, or at least plausible. Yes, sometimes you push the lines of plausibility in sci fi, but you never want your audience to be pulled out of the story because there is a moment where they think, ”Well, that could not happen,” or “That is not true.” Audiences are smart and discriminating. It does not take much to lose them.
When doing a show like Eureka, how important do you think it is to get the science right?
It is very important to us. Like I said, if you get the science right, the viewers will be in your corner. If you cross the line, they will let you know. The real question is, why would you not want to get it right if you can? The resources are available.
Thinking of the next generation of filmmakers and scientists – what message would you like to share with them?
Write what you love. Be open to collaboration, but true to your vision. I would not have been able to make our show without an amazing team of talented people.
What should we have asked you that we did not? What would you like to share? What inspires you? Anything you can share about your next project? Here is your chance to go crazy.
Lots of new projects in the works. My next series is much darker than Eureka, but still has a sense of humor. It is something my producing partner, James Middleton (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and I are developing with a young writer for the SyFy Channel. Details to come soon!