The Watchman: Humankind Reaches ‘Mars’, ‘Jonestown’ Revisited, Ben Stiller Portrays Great ‘Escape’

Senior content producer Michael Malone’s weekly look at the programming scene
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Season two of Mars kicks off on National Geographic Nov. 12. The season examines the conflict of science versus industry, and whether humankind ends up making the same mistakes on Mars that it has made on Earth.

Nat Geo's 'Mars'

Nat Geo's 'Mars'

There are six episodes. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer executive produce and Dee Johnson is showrunner. Mars’s mix of scripted and documentary makes it “very, very unique,” Johnson said.

Season one had a colony of science-minded individuals on the Red Planet. Season two adds a crew of profit-driven industry types. “They have a completely different agenda,” Johnson said.

Season one looked at whether Mars would kill the astronauts who arrived there. Season two examines whether the humans will kill Mars.

“It’s a unique show,” Johnson said. “You’re not going to see anything else like it.”

You’re not going to see anything like SundanceTV’s Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle either.

It has been 40 years since preacher Jim Jones convinced hundreds of followers to take their lives, and SundanceTV marks the dark occasion with Jonestown Nov. 17-18.

It is based on Jeff Guinn’s book The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. The book, and the special, depict Jones’ transformation from charismatic preacher to murderous demagogue.

While Jonestown was located in Guyana, Guinn said demagoguery seems to play particularly well in the States. “There are parallels [to Jonestown] throughout American history, and there are parallels today,” said Guinn. “Americans have always been vulnerable to demagogues.”

Such agitators typically traffic in negativity, Guinn said, and promote an us-versus-the enemy mentality. They also try to stifle other voices that followers might otherwise hear.

He unearthed a number of intriguing tidbits in his book research. A large number of the 900-plus who died that day 40 years ago resisted taking the poison, he said, and were lethally injected. “We’re talking mass murder,” Guinn said.

A couple of murderers get their closeup when Escape at Dannemora, about the prison break in upstate New York in 2015, premieres on Showtime Nov. 18. Ben Stiller executive produces and directs. Stiller heard quite a bit from local residents as they shot footage around Clinton Correctional Facility. “At first they were a little bit skeptical,” he said at the Television Critics Association Press Tour. “I understand that. The biggest thing was, tell the whole story.”

The residents didn’t want the convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat, representing their community. “A few bad apples aren’t representative of what really goes on here,” Stiller said.

Same goes for Tilly Mitchell, the prison employee who abetted Matt and Sweat.

“They’re upset that she’s representative of a place they take pride in,” he said.

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