By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Science-fiction drama "Defiance" wants to go where no television series has gone before, weaving a show with an online video game to achieve the elusive goal of parlaying success on one entertainment platform to another.
The new series, which premieres on U.S. cable channel Syfy on April 15, tells the story of frontier town Defiance, formerly St. Louis, in the near future following a 30-year war between humans and seven alien races.
Syfy last week released a multi-player, plot-based video game, developed with Trion Worlds, that lets users build their own personas and explore the landscape of a reshaped Earth in the San Francisco area. The game is made for Sony's PlayStation 3, Microsoft's Xbox360 and PC.
Spinning a film or TV series into a video game, or vice versa, is nothing new. But producers say "Defiance" is the first to weave both game and show together at the same time. The video game alone took some five years to create.
Known in the entertainment industry as the "second screen," the concept lets viewers engage with a show on a second platform on which networks pin hopes for additional advertising sales and cementing a dedicated fan base.
"What's unusual about what we're doing ... is we're building the second-screen concept into the actual DNA of the show-game combo," "Defiance" executive producer Kevin Murphy told Reuters.
"We're working to make a terrific serialized drama that stands on its own, but we understand that what has people watching us is the fact that this cross-platform promotional is something very, very desirable."
"Defiance" will be a guinea pig for the viability of merging media like video games with TV shows.
"Nobody has done this before, that's the scary part," he said. "The wonderful part is that there's nobody to say, 'No, no, no, that's not the way it's done.
"It's something (Syfy President) Dave Howe always refers to as the holy grail of entertainment," he added.
Syfy spent about $100 million to develop the game and show, and the network expects about 20 percent of viewers and players to cross over between the two platforms.
"We're very cautiously optimistic," Howe said, adding that it will still take the standard four or five weeks to know if "Defiance" will be renewed for a second season.
The "Defiance" cast is led by ex-Marine and vagabond Nolan, played by "Liz & Dick" star Grant Bowler, and his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas).
The two finally become tied down helping Defiance Mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz) defend the town from invasion.
Murphy, whose past credits include writer and producer on TV drama "Desperate Housewives," said there are plans for several crossovers between the series and game, including adapting user-created personas from the game into subsequent seasons of the television show.
Murphy said he wanted to depart from the recent popular television series of dark, dystopian sci-fi, such as AMC's "Walking Dead" and Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica."
"I think this is sort of a tip of the hat more to the old-school science-fiction like 'Star Trek' and 'Star Wars,' which were very hopeful, optimistic worlds," Murphy said.
The show often reflects American challenges of an ethnically diverse and often divided society.
In the pilot, polyglot alliances are tricky as humans and some races of aliens must reluctantly brush aside differences to protect the town from automatons known as the Volge.
"On our show, the aliens are not invading us," Murphy said. "The aliens are part of the melting pot .... They each have their own sort of social mores that they left behind and have been challenged because they've come to a new world."
Syfy is a unit of Comcast Corp.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey, editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman)