Project Blue Book stars Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the scientific advisor to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book investigation into UFOs. He is partnered with an Air Force officer played by Michael Malarkey from The Vampire Diaries, under the gruff and hammy supervision of Neal McDonough as an Air Force general looking to quash UFO reports. According to History’s press materials, each episode of the series will dramatize an unsolved case from the Project Blue Book files, alongside serialized conspiracy theory elements. While Robert Zemeckis’s name is attached to the project, the executive producer and writer of the series is Sean Jablonski, who ran Nip/Tuck on FX for six increasingly ludicrous seasons.
History released a screener for the pilot episode to television critics in advance of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, which is currently underway. A+E Networks, the parent company of History, has asked critics not to discuss the material in the Blue Book series screener until closer to the show’s air date. Or, rather, that’s the nice way of putting it.
After I viewed the screener and wrote up a review of the show, I contacted History’s publicity manager overseeing PR for the series, Kirby Dixon, a former fashion model and NBC page and communications coordinator who has been with History for a little less than two years. I wanted to know how long reviews of the show were embargoed since the press site and the screener omitted that important detail. She revoked my press credentials within 30 seconds of me asking how long the embargo runs, a pretty typical press question, and banned me from A+E Networks’ press site.
I have had press credentials with A+E Networks for the better part of a decade, and even during the months when A+E Networks threatened to sue me to protect America Unearthed from “audience confusion” over my critical reviews, they did not revoke my press access. I am dumbfounded that a potential future Project Blue Book review is a bridge too far for them. For most of the past decade, the powers that be at A+E Networks recognized that publicity is beneficial, even when the coverage is critical, since most of the trash they wallpaper their networks with would not otherwise spark online conversation and therefore generate audience interest. In terms of the bottom line, it doesn’t matter if viewers are watching a show because they love it or love to hate it as long as they tune in.
Nevertheless, because I have integrity where they do not, I will honor their restriction, to a point. Since they have released a trailer that gives you some of the flavor of the show, I will share with you the fact that the show is basically Dark Skies, the 1990s-era X-Files rip-off set in the 1960s and centering on the (fake) Majestic-12 conspiracy and their efforts to suppress knowledge of space aliens in the first half of the Cold War. (J. Allen Hynek is a character in both shows.) It is also a shittier version of Dark Skies, with some decidedly uninspired acting, cliché-ridden plotting, and clunky dialogue given over to too much exposition. Conceptually, the show is difficult for the audience to connect with because it lacks a true hero. If the show were to follow the real biography of Hynek he is, for most of the period the show will cover, a collaborator. The concept—UFO conspiracies are real!—does far too much of the heavy lifting.
None of this is anything you can’t pick up from the trailer, but when we are closer to the air date, I will explain more fully why this show is a disservice to UFO skeptics and believers alike, as well as fans of quality television. Let me put it this way: It’s probably important than nearly all of the footage in the trailer is not from the pilot. Indeed, and this is perhaps ironic, there is more material to work with in the three-minute trailer than there is in the hour-long pilot, and one could write a better think piece about the show from the highlight reel than from the first episode.
Sorry, History. I can’t un-see the show.
But I can talk about this: Major corporations are actively promoting pseudoscientific beliefs and profiting from the lies they foist on the public. Project Blue Book may be a drama, but its creator, David O’Leary, told Syfy Wire recently that the show was intended to serve, basically, as pro-UFO propaganda, stating that he wanted the audience to feel that the events they witnessed were “real.” He also said that part of the show’s mission is to depict Hynek’s conspiratorial conclusions several decades later, “One, that Bluebook became a misinformation campaign, a government front used to control the public perception to UFOs. And two, something of intelligence of an unknown origin — and he never said ‘alien’ definitively — but something unearthly, something that is not mankind is flying in our skies.”
Hynek, after leaving the Air Force investigation, ended up working with UFO researcher Jacques Vallée, who was then in a working partnership with paranormal researcher Hal Puthoff, and Hynek adopted Vallée’s and Puthoff’s belief that UFOs are a hybrid physical and psychical phenomenon that pop in and out of our reality from other dimensions and leave behind poltergeists. You know, science.
The History channel is essentially propagandizing for the very worst of ufology conspiracy theories, and they are not alone. It is hardly a coincidence that every major publishing house puts out bullshit books of anti-scientific and anti-rational propaganda. It is also no coincidence that both Taco Bell and McDonalds have employed ancient astronaut theorist Giorgio Tsoukalos as a spokesperson. Over the years, the news divisions of the broadcast networks have loaned out their star anchors to deliver bullshit UFO “documentaries,” most broadcast on cable, to help promote movies and TV series about UFOs.
Imagine, just for a second, that it wasn’t ufology but creationism or anti-vaccine beliefs or the flat earth hypothesis that received this treatment. Could you imagine McDonalds endorsing a flat earth conspiracy theory as cute and fun? Could you imagine a network news anchor smiling and giggling while talking about how “wild” the hunt for vaccine dangers was? Could you imagine a major drama series about a government conspiracy to suppress the whereabouts of Noah’s Ark because Americans would panic if they realized God was really real and would spank them? (And lest you think that is an off-the-wall example, there are also declassified government documents about the Ark, just as there are for UFOs.)
Time and again corporations like A+E Networks, NBCUniversal, the Walt Disney Company (a co-owner of A+E), the New York Times Company, the major publishing houses, and many others have shown that they aren’t just passive conduits for UFO beliefs but put their money and their weight on the scales to keep even the shittiest UFO conspiracy theories alive and churning out profits.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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