Mark A. Altman Discusses CW's Pandora Season 2 and how the entertainment industry has changed in the midst of COVID

Culture Slate had the opportunity to interview Mark A. Altman, who is a television and motion picture writer/producer/director who is the Showrunner, Creator and Executive Producer of Pandora, the hit new sci-fi action-adventure series for The CW which was recently renewed for its second season. Programming Insider lauded Pandora as “Stranger Things meets Riverdale.” Mark most recently served as Co-Executive Producer of TNT’s hit series, The Librarians, as well as such shows as Agent X (TNT), Castle (ABC), and Necessary Roughness (USA) among others and has sold numerous pilots.

In addition to directing the comedy special, Aries Spears: Comedy Blueprint for NBC/Universal, Altman produced the $30 million film adaptation of the bestselling video game, DOA: Dead Or Alive, which was released by Dimension Films. His first film was the award winning, Free Enterprise, starring William Shatner and Eric McCormack, which he wrote and produced and for which he won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best New Writer at the AFI Los Angeles Film Festival prior to the movie’s theatrical release.


Mark’s bestselling two-volume book, The 50 Year Mission: The Complete Uncensored, Oral History of Star Trek, was released by St. Martin’s Press in 2016 in hardcover to unanimous critical acclaim including raves in The Wall Street Journal, Booklist and Publishers Weekly. His follow- up book – Battlestar Galactica, So Say We All – was released in August 2018, and his latest oral history, Nobody Does It Better, chronicling the history of the James Bond franchise, will be released in paperback this fall after debuting in hardcover earlier this year.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the entertainment industry? Did you always want to work in television?

Ever since I was young I wanted to make movies and TV. It was a combination of loving Hitchcock films, Star Trek and Star Wars that inspired my passion for filmmaking. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted to do that young. I worked for many years as an entertainment journalist which was my film school and was immensely helpful in terms of teaching me how to produce prior to writing and producing my first film, Free Enterprise, the romantic comedy starring William Shatner and Eric McCormack. By the time I started doing television with my writing partner Steve Kriozere, I had a ton of experience doing feature films, both large and small. And quite frankly, you learn a lot more on the smaller films than the big ones.

As the creator and showrunner of Pandora, was there anything or anyone that inspired you when you wrote the show?

Absolutely, I love the genre so having the opportunity to work on a straight-up genre show has been very satisfying. I’d never gotten to do a space adventure series, but being well-versed in Star Trek as well as Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5 and Firefly has really been all been an inspiration obviously. Of course, there are more esoteric touchstones as well like The Paper Chase. For me the genesis of Pandora began with the idea of how a great teacher/mentor can be transformative in a college student’s life. And then I set it in space. What I love about the genre is the hopeful optimism of a better future and that by working together we can triumph over any adversity. So that needed to be part of the DNA of the series. I think for fans who have been craving a more hopeful, optimistic sci-fi series with characters they care about, this will hopefully be their show. Much like college students who discover themselves during their four years in university, I think we really discovered the show in its sophomore year. It’s bigger, more action-packed, serialized, and we spend a lot more time in space. I just think everything came together this year the way it did for TNG in its third season.

What was it like working on season 2 of Pandora during the pandemic? Were there any interesting challenges you had to figure out?

Huge challenges. For a long time I wasn’t even sure we’d be able to do the show, but ultimately we implemented a very aggressive mitigation plan and, fortunately, we shoot in Europe which has done a better job of addressing the pandemic, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to many sleepless nights waiting for our COVID test results to come back for cast and crew. We were smart, concerned, and admittedly lucky that we were able to get through production without cast or crew getting infected. Having had COVID earlier this year myself, it’s pretty awful, and not anything I would wish on anyone.

How do you think the entertainment industry as a whole will change or has changed with everything going on?

Production across the world has been dramatically affected and will continue to be as long as there’s not a foolproof vaccine. You will see the effect on screen on many shows which will have less location shooting, fewer extras, and other changes. More shows will shoot like The Mandalorian on stages with LED screens and virtual sets, but, for now, that is also super expensive. The challenge with our show was very much like the one Babylon 5 faced 20 years ago when it aired concurrently with Deep Space Nine. In October alone, we’re airing the same month as Discovery, The Mandalorian and some other big genre shows, which have huge budgets. Not that I see them as direct competition, but you don’t want to be dismissed because you don’t have the budget of certain other shows. Ultimately, shows are about ideas and characters. I think if you have a great concept and can execute it, the budget isn’t as important.

With filming a show that’s primarily based in the future and space, do you shoot a lot on location or in studio? What was it like shooting in Sofia?

We’re very lucky to shoot in Sofia, Bulgaria in Europe. While there’s a language barrier at times, there’s a wonderful group of film and television artists who are excited to be working and it gives us such a unique look and a really talented group of artisans. The cast has really grown to enjoy shooting in Sofia and other than the pandemic, I really enjoyed my experience there! The food there is wonderful too!

Can you give us any hints about what to expect in season two and what the audience can look forward to?

The first episode, “Things Have Changed,” starts six months after our season one finale and, true to the title, things HAVE changed. Jax is now working closely with the Earth Intelligence Services on missions and Xander has been promoted to Captain so he now has his own ship, the Dauntless, which allows us to spend a lot more time in space. We have some great new characters including Roxanne McKee as someone very close to Jax, and Jett played marvelously by Akshay Kumar returning from last season in search of redemption after doing some very horrible things last year. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. We also have Shani Erez playing Admiral Meredith Lucas, an enigmatic new character at CIS. And we have Jax’s new sophomore year roommate, Nicole Castillo-Mavromatis as Zazie Nichols, whose a very different kind of roommate for Jax than Pilar and feels very true to the college experience. In general, the show is a lot more serialized so it allows us to tell more complex stories both about the characters and the mythology which I think people will really respond to. I think we have a better idea of what the show is this year and what we can do well and what we can’t. And we have a fantastic cast. The troika of Jax, Xander, and Ralen are fantastic and I find each of the actors equally charming. I’m also deeply indebted to Chris LeDoux and Crafty Apes who have done such a remarkable job with the visual effects for the season and really opened up the show in a big way. Chris directed one of our episodes this season that looks like a feature film and is one of my favorite episodes yet.

Aside from Pandora, are there any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with our audience? 

Pandora is keeping me very busy of course, but you always have to think about your next show so there are some things in the offing that we hope to know more about soon. Also, the paperback edition to my bestselling oral history of James Bond: Nobody Does It Better, comes out next month, and the paperback of The Fifty-Year Mission, my Star Trek oral history, is now out as well. Somehow I’m actually managing to keep up with my podcasts as well which you can watch on the Electric Now streaming app or wherever you listen to podcasts, including Inglorious Treksperts, which is a fun, insightful podcast for Star Trek fans.

Pandora Season Two premieres in the U.S. on The CW Network on Sunday, October 4, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.

New episodes will stream the following day on the CW App. Viewers can enjoy all season one episodes anytime on the CW App, iTunes, and Amazon.

The weekly Pandora podcast, Unboxing Pandora, is available wherever you listen to podcasts.

Pandora can be seen in Canada on CTV’s Sci-Fi Channel. The series is also running on channels in the U.K. and around the world.