Once Upon A Geek – V: The Original Mini-Series

ONCE UPON A VISITOR (part 1 of 3)

We begin our coverage of the classic 1980s sci-fi phenomenon entitled, “V”! Across three episodes we'll cover every aspect of the franchise.

This episode features 10 different fans discussing: V THE ORIGINAL MINI-SERIES, composer Joe Harnell's music for "V" and the various soundtracks, the promotional efforts and hype, and why people loved "V" so much!

  • 0:11:31 - V: THE ORIGINAL MINI-SERIES
  • 1:36:07 - V the Music
  • 2:22:24 - V the Promotions and Hype

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51 responses to “Once Upon A Geek – V: The Original Mini-Series

  1. Thank you so much for this discussion, I really enjoyed it. I was 10 when this aired in the UK and was instantly captured. Julie being shot and the scene with Ben and Elias amazing, plus also the opening dream sequence in episode 4 with Mike and Sean being gunned down in slo-mo. Soooo good.

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    1. Thanks for listening! Everything with Julie, Ben and Elias in the first mini-series is great! And just watched that hallway running scene with Mike and Sean last night!!

  2. Andy Leyland’s comment about V trouncing the BBC Olympics broadcast in the ratings is hilarious. But naturally, V was going to win.

    I read It Can’t Happen Here twice. I actually thought Shag’s encapsulation was accurate, actually. I sympathize with the view that it should not be compared to *modern* politics. But it is undeniably a World War II allegory and the Holocaust. I assume discussing that is fair game, yes?

    Andy’s observation that it holds up even after all these years reminds me of something Kenneth Johnson said… he said that the acting was so on point that before they took the movie to special effects he realized that it was going to “take people’s heads off” (or something to that effect) and knock people out because the story and the acting were that good. I think that’s why it holds up and survives its otherwise somewhat dated SFX.

    I also had to watch “V” past my bedtime… so I watched it, unbeknownst (?) to my parents, alone, and on a black and white TV. Let me say, V was terrifying in black and white. I think that if my parents had just made an exception and let me watch it *with them* it might not have scared my so badly! Parenting fail!

    I never realized that you never see the Visitors alone without humans. That’s a great observation.

    I love the observation that Julie goes through an arc of change and is therefore the lead character.

    Robin is the Doreen Day of “V”. Shag gets it.

    Diana has definite Dr. Mengele vibes to her, hence the “medical experiments”.

    Shag, I think a LOT of people are represented by Stanley’s everyman character. It was very honest of you to say that you relate to him. I think that’s realistically how a lot of people react to situations that are beyond their control.

    Wait, you snubbed the voice of KITT?????

    I think the function of Willie is to show that the Visitors are also comprised of ordinary “people”. Just like the Nazis. The Nazis had ordinary people in their ranks.

    I agree that elements of “V” had to be “on the nose” so that the kids would get it. No apologies for that. Honestly, there are some adults who probably needed it on the nose for them to get it too.

    The shuttlecraft chase goes on for 10 minutes… and it’s completely carried by… wait for it… the music, of course. That scene would not work at all without Joe Harnell’s masterful score propelling it along.

    It does still hold up. I shared it with my 15-year-old daughter, and she really got it.

    I agree that ends just fine. It’s not about beating the Visitors, it’s about having the courage to go the distance.

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    1. Rob – That black and white TV viewing experience does sound scary for a kid!!

      And YES, Robin is the Doreen Day of “V”! LOL!!!

      Thanks for your wonderful contributions to the show! Fascinating discussion!

  3. Also, I wanted to mention that my wife Becky points out that the V-for-Victory Morse Code musical motive is heard prominently more recently in the movie Midway and also in Lord of the Rings, track 12 The Battle Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers.

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  4. Great show — both V and the podcast.

    I started watching V with the weekly series, so I started thinking of Donovan as the leader/hero/main character. But when I finally saw the mini-series a few years later, I was surprised to discover Julie was the true leader.

    Some of the things that came from watching the original mini-series a few years after original broadcast, is 1) I was older, and so clearly saw the political metaphor. 2) I saw two movies — The Killing Fields and Salvador. Both movies were released after V, but their main characters are based on real people. And I have to wonder if those people were the partial inspiration for Mike Donovan:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Schanberg

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Boyle_(journalist)

    (Actually, I’m still listening. So, there’s a chance one of the people on the podcast already mention this.)

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    1. Hi Allen – On the ORIGINAL MINI-SERIES commentary, Kenneth Johnson mentions the real-life basis for the characters. I don’t recall the name, but you may be right!

  5. Thanks for the discussion.
    Quick question, where can one find the soundtracks to V and V finial battle?
    All I can find is main theme for V the battle.

    Loved the discussion about the show’s music! I don’t have the musical intelligence to have pick up on those details but thanks for highlighting them.

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    1. Hi Leslie – Thanks for listening! Unfortunately, the only place I can find to order the soundtracks is used copies of physical CDs. I recommend trying eBay and Amazon. I plan to seek out the soundtrack to the weekly TV series myself.

  6. Great show — both V and the podcast.

    I came to V via the weekly series. So, I had a few advantages from seeing the original mini-series a few years later. I caught far more of the politics than I would have in 1983. But also, I had seen two films released later The Killing Fields and Salvador. But those films were based on real-life journalists Sydney Schanberg and Richard Boyle. And I feel like they were the real-life inspirations for Mike Donovan.

    I first thought that Donovan was the hero, the leader. But that was from the weekly series. In the original mini-series, Julie is truly the leader and hero.

    I also think the killing of scientists would make 1980s audiences think of the Khmer Rouge as well as the Nazis.

    I also remember in the Alien Nation TV series (also by Johnson) has a Black character make racist comments about the Newcomers, again fears of them taking away jobs.

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  7. 1) See, if you had broken it up into hour long monthly episodes, you could have made it to the actual anniversary year in 2023 instead of being a 39th anniversary spectacular, you weirdo.

    2) Wait– only 2017? Feels like longer.

    3) I think that we can agree that regardless of a podcast’s actual length, I always bring that “third guest on a three hour podcast” energy, but the hamster-swallowing twist was my being the shortest non-interstitial segment.

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    1. True story… Before it was released, I told some friends the episode was 3 hours long. First question was, “Is Frank on the episode?” LOL!! And I leapt to your defense mentioning yours was the shortest segment! Glad to have you aboard, Fixer!

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  8. The score stuff is FASCINATING. As a kid, I preferred the score to The Final Battle, as an adult I have to wonder what I was smoking.

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    1. Having just watched some of the “Original Mini-Series” before listening to the podcast, the second you and Robert Gross mentioned the North by Northwest connection, I mentally kicked myself for not noticing it because I love Bernard Hermann’s North by Northwest theme. It even shows up on my playlist for power-walks.

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      1. I definitely still prefer the title music for Final Battle, a lifelong instrumental earworm to match The Untouchables.

  9. Great episode Shag! I know this means a lot to you, and I must say you did a bang-up job. You’re off to a wonderful start!

    Since I haven’t rewatched “V” since childhood, the adult allegories to the past (and unfortunately a lot of OUR present) were lost on me. I really need to go back and rewatch. BUT, your discussion did stir up more memories. I specfically recall my Mom letting me stay up past 11 (on a school night!) to watch the entire episodes. So I saw the lizard reveal in real time. Such parental gestures were usually only resevered for the ABC Sunday Night Movie when they were airing Superman or James Bond films!

    I have to mention that Abraham was played by Leonard Cimino who to a certain group of nerds is to forever be known as “Scary German Guy” in The Monster Squad. The beauty of his casting is he’s not scary at all, and befriends and helps the titular Squad. But the best scene in the movie is when they tell him “You sure know a lot about monsters!” He responds “I suppose I do.” and we see the concentration camp tattoo on his arm. This was a few years after “V”, and that’s all we got as far as relevance, but it still resonates.

    Can’t wait to hear everyone freak about about lizard babies in Part Two!

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    1. I just looked up Leonard Cimino’s IMDb page and under trivia it notes that while he was not a Holocaust survivor (despite being known for playing two in the 1980s), he did enlist in the army in 1940 and took part in D-Day.

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    2. Thank you, Chris! Too scared for Star Wars, but Lizard people eating your neighbors was okay? You were a weird kid, Chris. 😉

      Believe it or not, I only saw The Monster Squad for the first time a few years ago, so I didn’t have the connection growing up. Loved the film when I finally saw it, and hearing the “V” connection is even more touching!!

      Thanks for listening!

      1. I don’t have the same depths of passion for Monster Squad as V, but I have the rare distinction of seeing it theatrically (in pieces while my father stocked concessions that Friday afternoon.) Just attended a panel with Sean, Rudy, the cops, and the monsters at Texas Frightmare Weekend and bought a (probably unlicensed) t-shirt.

        1. Oh wow, that’s awesome Frank. I saw Sean, Rudy and Phoebe the Febe from afar at a con in Louisville a few years back. I should have stopped by to see them, but I was too focused on meeting Kevin Conroy, Loren (Robin) Lester and Ricou (Creature From The Black Lagoon) Browning.

          Oh, and I was only 2 when Star Wars came out, and 8 when “V” aired, so big difference, Shag!

  10. Outstanding episode! The music discussion was incredibly fascinating and a real treat!

    I started watching today while walking, so I watched the first 45 minutes and was struck by how many actors I recognized. Chris pointed out that Leonard Cimino was also in The Monster Squad, but I had completely forgotten that Joanna Kerns (Maggie Seaver herself) played Mike Donovan’s ex wife. Then, you’ve got Michael Durrell, who would go on to have an occurring role as Donna’s father on Beverly Hills, 90210. I recognized Bonnie Bartlett as the mom of Arnold and Danny DeVito in Twins. Jason Bernard, who played Caleb, was Herman’s boss on Herman’s Head. Because you all needed to know that.

    Anyway, I’m not even to the big Visitor reveal and it’s gripping drama. I’m impressed by how long they were able to let this story build and also really develop the various characters.

    And the Visitor whom Robin falls for has this John Elway look about him that I could totally see considered “hunky” in 1983.

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    1. Thanks for listening, Tom! All great points! There was so much to discuss about the mini-series, we didn’t get a chance to touch on so many of those fantastic cast members and their previous roles. Thank you for pointing those out here!

      And I’m thrilled you are giving the series another try!

      1. I’d have gone with the White Shadow trivia that Jason Bernard played the principal in the pilot episode, but was replaced by the unrelated (although his best friend) Ed Bernard in the series. Of course, any geek is going to love him for his Nightshade on the 1990s Flash.

        A real great cast of character actors, and the first mini-series definitely felt like a 1980s mini-series with the sense of scale.

    2. Never apologize for offering unsolicited Herman’s Head trivia, but do consider which parts of his brain would be for or against, just for fun.

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      1. Tom, Jason Bernard was also the “Golden Age” pulp hero the Nightshade on the John Welsely Shipp Flash series. Those two episodes he was in are some of my favorites. And I remember really liking Herman’s Head!

  11. Great job Shag! This is really some in depth coverage! I didn’t catch the Original Miniseries until it was rebroadcast ahead of V: The Final Battle. So I got to experience it as a huge five part event. It was truly epic. I bought a bunch of the comics when DC published their short run to tie in with the weekly series. Man they produced some awesome and exciting covers for that series. Too bad it was all left unresolved. I’m shaking my fist like a grumpy old man at those indecisive network execs!
    Most recently I tracked down a copy of V: The Second Generation by Kenneth Johnson which ignores the events of The Final Batyle and gives us an idea of how Johnson would have followed up the original story. But… I’m getting ahead of the game here, sorry. Looking forward to the next installment

  12. A big thanks to Shag, Andy, Rob and Frank for this tour de force of an episode.

    I don’t know if I saw the original series when it premiered, but I do remember watching it when we visited family later that summer. They had tapped both episodes. So, I spent most of the trip repeatedly watching V, and running around the backyard with my brothers and cousins pretending to be resistance fighters. I was too young at the time to catch all of the socio-political commentary, and definitely need to go back and watch the series again.

    I’m looking forward to the next episode.

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    1. Love, love, love the memories of watching and re-watching on VHS! I did the same thing once I got copies in the late 80s. Self-recorded VHS memories are to be cherished!!

  13. That was brilliant. A great listen. I absolutely *adored* V when it first screened in the UK, and it was good to get a little more context from Andy on the weird circumstances surrounding how that happened. It is fair to say that aged 10, my primary concerns were the pew pew and lizards and spaceships and the evil alien rodent-eating lady who gave me strange and confusing feelings. I’ve not seen it since then, so you’ve now tempted me to revisit with a view towards the political/allegorical side of things.

    That music discussion was really fascinating, too. Love the symbolism expressed in sound. Wonderful stuff.

    One final note on the lasting cultural impact of V. At least over here in the UK, the gif of Robin’s lizard baby being born seems to do the rounds whenever a new royal baby arrives before whom we are expected to prostrate ourselves. And rightly so.

  14. Great Stuff. I remember the original mini series, TV Shows & the Comics.
    Had such high hopes for the New Show. I might have been too hopeful.
    Love the comments & discussions!

  15. Great episode! I had to listen to it in bites, but it was absolutely worth it. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the music, especially the hidden motifs and messages.

    I must’ve been living in the wrong markets, because from my perspective, it pretty much vanished off the face of the earth not long after the follow-up series ended. I’m glad to hear it lived on in re-runs, and I’m motivated to give it a long-overdue rewatch myself.

    As for the Space Invaders thing, what I think Frank may be referring to is the 2007 Aqua Teen Hunger Force Mooninite incident in Boston, where LED placards of Mooninites, which look a lot like Space Invaders, mysteriously appeared and spawned a bomb scare that was all over the news.

    Thanks again for doing this – looking forward to the next episode!

  16. Shag never goes in with half-measures. Great stuff – all three segments – and as to the length, I treated as a three weekly episodes I was simply catching up on.

  17. Whew, I’m finally done (at regular speed, 2x speed is for quitters!) but it was well worth the time. Fantastic job everyone! Shag, your enthusiasm for V oozed through the speakers and it made me excited for this 40 year old show. All the guests, and the interstitials, were very enjoyable and, like others mentioned above, I loved (LOVED!) the music talk with Dr.Gross. Since I know a little bit about music, it was amazing to hear how in depth the V composer went when composing his themes. So good! All of this discussion makes me want to revisit V, something I haven’t done since it came out!

    I don’t know why I would have seen this when it came out, as I would have been a weenie 7 year old, but it must have been a family event that my parents either let me stay up for, or more likely, taped and we watched later. But I remember being scared out of my pants about as the flesh came off the face to reveal the lizard skin underneath! I don’t remember any more (or even that there were additional series) so I must have been so scared that I didn’t want to watch anymore. In fact, that’s one reason I never really went back to re-watch the series. I was blown away to hear how it had so many allegories that it makes me want to revisit it.

    Thank you for an incredible deep dive and I’m looking forward to the follow up episodes!

    Keep up the great work!

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    1. i heartily approve your listening in regular speed and thank you for it. People who listen in 2x speed probably still watch films in pan and scan!

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  18. Great episode Shag! Wow what a Herculean effort! Now I have to go back and watch it! It has been 39 years after all… loved the story from Andy about how it aired differently in the UK. And I am not as music oriented as many other fans but I found that segment fascinating. You can tell this whole episode was a labor of love, or should I say joy! Look forward to the next 2 parts!

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  19. Shag, my bother from another mother (who was definitely my second mother in college), I LOVED this episode. Fantastic job. As everyone else has mentioned, I was totally intrigued in the music topic. It’s not to say the other segments were any less enjoyable, they were really fun to listen to also.
    As many times as I have seen this series, this episode has motivated me to go back and watch it again. I think I am up to my twentieth-something view now. Despite the fact that a lot of the series hasn’t really aged that well (especially The Final Battle, even though I can never get enough of Michael Ironside), it is still great fun to watch, over and over.
    Keep up the good work. I look forward to more episodes.

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    1. Ed – Thank you for listening and commenting! I imagine back in the late 80s/early 90s we probably watched my old VHS TV copies several times together!!

  20. Apologies for being so late with the feedback – then again, you did say you’re only doing feedback every five episodes or something, so what’s the hurry! How IS 2023 going?

    What an epic opening episode, congratulations, it must’ve taken up awful lot of work on your part, Shagg. I enjoyed all the guests talking about the different aspects of the show.

    And how wonderful that your first guest is a fellow Brit, it’s great when Andy drops in on the network, he always surprised me with his tremendous head for trivia. I don’t remember where I was when V first arrived on UK telly, other than sitting in front of the TV, not watching the Olympics. I do remember finding it terribly absorbing, pretty much all the characters were watchable… well, bar Willie, he was annoying. Oh, and that daft Robin.

    Robert’s insights into the soundtrack were absolutely fascinating… I’m someone who enjoys music but doesn’t understand the technical aspects – I was once reduced pretty much to tears by a television programme in which the composer Howard Goodall was attempting to make the technical aspects of music simple, but it sounded like higher maths, it was so frustrating being unable to get my head around it. I found Robert’s setting out of the thinking behind the music, and how it was working with the action, wonderful.

    And as it came up, Joe Harrell and Ira Skutch’s Counterpoint: The Journey of a Music Man is indeed on Amazon.

    I wonder why Mr Harnell didn’t come up with a lizard theme using all the scales…

    What is Chud that Frank mentioned at couple of times? Oh hang on, I have looked it up… Never heard of it, but it sounds like my type of film. What a terrible terrible title, though.

    I look forward to the next show, especially if it brings in the comics. I loved the comics!

    1. Martin – Thanks for listening and the kind words! Yes, it’s been a lot of work putting this together — roughly 5 years of planning and 9 months of recording by the time it’s done. *phew*

      Glad it’s being appreciated! Thanks again for listening!!

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