Manny Coto

Manny Coto is the creator, frequent writer and executive producer of Odyssey 5, a show that sees four astronauts and a journalist who were on board the space shuttle Odyssey having their consciousnesses sent back in time by an alien being. The reason? They are orbiting Earth when the planet suddenly explodes, and the alien being The Seeker gives them a chance to relive five years of their lives and attempt to stop history repeating itself.

Note: This interview took place on 13th September 2002, and can be found in Cult Times #85. There isn't a great deal left over, the rest will be in the issue, but there are some interesting hints and tidbits for fans of the series, so I thought I'd put them out there. Apologies as usual for things not flowing perfectly in places.

One of the most interesting concepts in the show is the way changes the Odyssey crew make pushing the timetable of the people trying to destroy Earth up, making the danger immediate…
Although there is a surprise; well, I can't say without giving it away. What you think you're learning about they're changing history and all of this and how it's accelerating and decelerating the ticking clock, it may or may not be true. You never know, there's some secrets yet to be learned.

Does it help that the series is on Showtime?
Yeah, it helps a lot. We have very little creative interference. We get notes, and by and large the notes we get from Showtime have been all very positive and they're very supportive, and it's been nothing but a great relationship with them. But it's different because I've worked on a network show before and it's a whole different ball game, where every single thing you do is reviewed and tested and placed before a committee. Here they really believe in allowing you to create your own show and decide your own creative direction.

How involved are you in each ep?
I'm extremely involved. I'm maniacally hands-on about everything. I spend most of my time up here in Toronto where the episodes are shot; I develop the stories; a lot of the stories that have gone this season are mine. It's just the job of the exec producer, you don't necessarily get credit for everything you come up with, and I help outline and I beat out the stories and write as much as I can. I haven't written even as [much as] I hoped to because the production was so difficult to mount, and I've spent so much time on the set, in the editing room, in the mixing stage, on casting sessions, that have just become a huge task. But now that I have a writing staff that I gel with very well and gel with me, I think hopefully by next season I'll be able to get more into the writing.

Presumably there are 22 episodes?
There's 20 hours, so there's actually 19 episodes if you count the pilot as two.

I like the way the series isn't afraid to point out its shortcomings, like in the episode where the team goes to see a Sci-Fi writer for help and he says there's no way a space shuttle could survive the Earth exploding.
Yeah, well, you know. I sat down, I said, 'How many holes can you poke into this?' and I just started throwing out the ones that were in my subconscious like, 'How in the world would they survive'? That was fun.

Are you hoping to plug that hole?
I actually, in my mind, think that the way the world exploded is possible. Stranger things have happened; people have survived miraculous, terrible cataclysms through strange strands of luck, and I always just said, 'Well, they managed to survive,' that's where the story jumps off from. Maybe they got caught in a vortex which pulled them down into the explosion. There's a million other ways. Maybe some day I'll explain how they survived. You never know.

What you need is another Sci-Fi writer to explain it.
To postulate how they managed to pull this off. [He laughs.]

Do you find you're keyed into the genre after working on The Outer Limits and Strange World?
Yeah, I love Science Fiction. I've always been a Science Fiction reader and watcher all my life. In the series there's a lot of reference to Science Fiction; a lot of Star Trek references because the original Trek was one of my favourite shows of all time. In fact we have one episode, I don't know if you've gotten episode 11 yet. That one, we literally named a character Harry Mudd out of a Star Trek episode and that one has the most references yet. And we poked some more fun at Star Trek; we poked fun at the transporter beams and how it's possible to transport, and it's fun. I love playing with the genre and having fun with it.

Are you sorry Strange World was so short-lived?
Absolutely, it was very disappointing. I enjoyed working on that series, and I enjoyed working with Howard Gordon, he's such a great writer. He's on 24 now; I wanted to get him on Odyssey, but he got a better gig.

It would be tricky to talk him out of that job.
[He laughs.] I couldn't get him out of 24.

Do you feel the show's heading the way you wanted it to?
Oh yeah. In many ways it's better than what I'd originally envisioned. These characters and the writers have brought a whole new thing to it that I was only skirting the surface of.

Are there any elements you hadn't thought of before that you've found there's potential in?
That's a good question. I have to say, not really. Everything we've done, at least in this first season, is always stuff that I've always planned we would get to in some way or another. It's just that I think, for instance, Peter Weller has brought a different vibe to Chuck Taggart that I never envisioned; something darker and in the same way more humorous and more cocky than I saw Chuck Taggart, so Taggart has morphed into a different kind of character that I think is more interesting, frankly, more enigmatic than a straight-headed NASA individual.

Is it freeing being on Showtime, where you can put in all the sex, violence, nudity and bad language you want?
It's very freeing; we all sit down and say, 'Oh, can we do this? Can we not do this?' and sometimes I've had to actually pull people back, because there's a tendency to start saying f**k every five minutes because you can, you know what I mean? And it just starts sounding ridiculous. So it can be freeing and at the same time it can be over-used. With the nudity as well, I think there's a couple of times we've shot some nude scenes where I go back and look at it and say, 'Well, we didn't need to do that'. So we go back and forth.

Why does Kurt's attitude to marriage seem to change from week to week; he already seems to have forgotten he was married in an early episode this year.
He was almost married in the original timeline. He did get married in that one episode, but that was for money. We know that he almost got married in the pilot, he broke that off, and he got married in four, but I still say regardless of whether he got married or not, it's not something he planned, it's not his style.

And what about his relationship with Angela?
Well, it was a relationship, and it didn't work out. She left him and there's a strange kind of sexual tension between them; they're both attracted to each other, but where it'll go only we know. It does play out in future episodes.

What's coming next season?
I'm too tired to think about next season. It's already being drawn out. I look at each season as a different act, and at the end of an act an event happens that spins you in a different direction, and next season they will be spun in a different direction, and have to fight a whole different entity or breed.