The 2000s, fittingly enough, saw something of a renaissance in sci-fi television. Not that sci-fi had ever really left the airwaves or wasn’t prominent in the 1990s, but that era definitely had a “next generation” feel to it in terms of the genre. Perhaps it was a side effect of the future that was teased in movies like Back to the Future II and The Jetsons–which promised flying cars and robot maids and the like by the year 2000– not coming to pass.
Ahead of shows like Lost, Firefly, Star Trek: Enterprise, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate: Atlantis, and of course, the beginning of the modern run of Doctor Who, famed movie director James Cameron took his first crack at small-screen fiction when he added Dark Angel to that decade’s class of sci-fi television.
Like many James Cameron projects, Dark Angel was headed up by a strong female protagonist– in this case, played by Jessica Alba in her breakthrough role– and took place in a post-apocalyptic future with heavy cyberpunk themes.
For a show that was only on the air for two seasons, there is a lot of interesting trivia about the production of Dark Angel, both on and off the screen. Whether you were a fan or have never even heard of the show until now and just clicked on this list out of curiosity (read: the cover photo of Jessica Alba), you’re likely to find the story behind this series to be quite fascinating.
Here are 20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of Dark Angel.
20 James Cameron Initially Wasn’t Impressed By Jessica Alba
After auditioning over 1,000 girls for the lead role of Max Guevara, producers narrowed the field down to just a few dozen hopefuls, sending those tapes over to James Cameron to make the final call.
Jessica Alba’s audition tape didn’t make much of an impact on Cameron – or so he thought.
“She didn’t present herself all that well,” Cameron said, going on to explain that Alba read directly from the script and had her head down through much of the tape.
However, Cameron further explained, “there was something about the way she read the script that copped an attitude that I liked,” and that he found himself coming back to her tape over and over again. After requesting to meet her, he was convinced that they had found their Max.
19 The Pilot Cost $10 million
In this time of cable networks and streaming services thinking nothing of spending seven figures on single episodes of television shows– and $100+ million on original movies– it seems rather quaint that the budget for the pilot episode of Dark Angel ended up clocking in at only $10 million.
Network television even today tends to spend a bit more conservatively than cable and Netflix, and in the year 2000, a single episode of a prime-time network television show costing that much was a rarity.
Again, having James Cameron’s name attached certainly helped to convince Fox that it would be worth the hefty price tag, especially seeing as how Titanic had just ended its unprecedented theatrical run.
18 Dark Angel Vs Angel
The media loves a good rivalry, and has been known to great lengths to create one where one didn’t previously exist. This was definitely the case for Dark Angel and the vampire drama Angel, which seem to have little in common beyond sharing a word in their titles.
To be fair, there was more than titular commonality linking the two series– Fox initially put Dark Angel in the same time slot as Angel, pitting the shows directly against each other in the weekly ratings battle.
Media writers jumped all over it, writing many op-eds about which show they predicted would come out ahead. The general consensus seemed to be that Dark Angel would win the night early on while it was still hot, but that Angel would prove to have the greater staying power. That analysis would prove to be spot-on.
17 It Was Inspired By Y2K Hysteria
Sure, the whole Y2K thing– ask your parents if you’re too young to know what that is– ended up not amounting to anything.
In the lead-up to the year 2000, we were led to believe that we could see catastrophic failure of the world’s computer systems.
Even though the calendar flip from 1999 to 2000 had come and gone by then, the hysteria surrounding it still had a profound effect on fiction for a time. Writers had something new to serve as the cause for a dystopian future beyond the tired tropes of nuclear war and/or zombie virus.
In the world of Dark Angel, Y2K panic’s influence is pretty obvious: an electromagnetic pulse had wiped out every computer in the entire U.S., the result of which was the dark, post-apocalyptic setting of the series.
16 It Wasn’t Really Filmed In Seattle
Much is made of Dark Angel taking place in Seattle, with the dilapidated version of the city’s iconic Space Needle featuring prominently in the show and its opening credits. In reality, not a single second of the show was actually shot there.
The entirety of Dark Angel‘s filming took place in and around Vancouver. The production never even bothered to do that thing that other shows do where they go to the city the show takes place in and spend a couple of days filming exterior shots near familiar landmarks to keep the illusion going.
It kind of makes you wonder why they didn’t just go with a fictional city if they weren’t going to actually film in Seattle, and just have “Terminal City” be some new post-apocalyptic city in and of itself rather than a part of Seattle.
15 Hitman reused Dark Angel’s footage
It’s no big secret that a lot of movies and TV shows use stock footage when they just need something like a sweeping pan over a forest or a shot of a thunderstorm, and that you may see the same footage more than once. It’s not often that footage using actual actors is shared across such different projects, years apart.
Dark Angel shot scenes of kids being trained for some malicious purpose, all looking similar and with barcodes on their necks.
When it came time to make 2007’s Hitman movie, the producers decided that said Dark Angel footage would also work in their movie to show how assassins like Agent 47 are groomed from childhood. With Fox producing both projects and already owning that footage, this was clearly a cost-cutting measure.
14 Jessica Alba Trained Hard To Play Max
In making the decision to cast Jessica Alba, there must have been some discussion as to her willingness to give the role the physicality it required. To that point, Alba spent a year learning to fight and how to properly handle a motorcycle, the result of which speaks for itself as Dark Angel had some fantastic action setpieces.
This is all the more impressive given that Alba was just 18 when she first got to work on Dark Angel, and she also isn’t exactly a huge, hulking figure.
That she did most of her own fight scenes and stunt work is definitely something to commend her for, and the accolades the role earned her– a Saturn Award, a People’s Choice Award, and a TV Guide Award, to name a few– were well-deserved.
13 Dean Winchester’s early role
Dark Angel had the biggest effect on Jessica Alba’s career. Within a few years, she was starring in blockbusters like Sin City and Fantastic Four. That isn’t to say that none of the other actors on the show got their first mainstream exposure from the series.
The biggest example of this is easily Supernatural‘s Jensen Ackles, who had previously been a prolific actor but hadn’t yet done anything in the action/sci-fi realm until Dark Angel, paving the way for what would eventually be his most iconic role.
Other actors who appeared in Dark Angel before finding the role that they are more commonly associated with include Rainn Wilson (The Office), Byron Mann (Arrow), Kevin Durand (Lost), and Martin Cummins (Riverdale).
12 Its Debut Preempted a big live debate
Network television tends to come to a screeching halt whenever someone running for office is saying something important. This includes debates, which are generally run in their entirety by all of the major networks, preempting any other programming that would normally air during that time.
Fox decided that the target demographic for its new series, Dark Angel, might be the type that wouldn’t much care to watch two old dudes debate politics and would be looking for something else to watch instead.
The network made the bold move to air the series premiere of Dark Angel instead of the first debate of the 2000 race.
It ended up being a great bit of counter-programming, as the pilot drew strong ratings and was second only to juggernaut CSI for the week.
11 Max Was Based On Jessica Alba
Although James Cameron clearly had something specific in mind for Max– and found that something in Jessica Alba– the truth is that the character hadn’t yet been fully formed at the time of the casting process.
In fact, not a single line of Max’s dialogue had even been written yet when Alba got the part.
The upshot to casting the role before the character was “finished” was it gave Cameron and Dark Angel co-creator Charles H. Eglee the ability for Max and Alba to meet halfway, and to form Max around Alba as much as Alba was being trained to become Max.
As such, Max was developed around Alba’s attitude, mannerisms, and her particular way of speaking. It’s the ideal way to ensure that a character and her actor are a perfect fit.
10 James Cameron Didn’t Direct Until The Final Episode
People who create TV shows often direct the first episode of said show. Otherwise, they might go with a seasoned pilot director, as they did for Dark Angel. David Nutter directed pilots for nearly two dozen shows including Roswell, Smallville, Supernatural, Arrow, and The Flash.
Interestingly, James Cameron didn’t step behind the camera for Dark Angel during the majority of its run, not sitting in the director’s chair until he did so for what would end up being the series finale.
He decided to direct what was then just the finale of season two as a way to show Fox just what the show was capable of and why they should bring it back for a third season.
9 The Second Season Barely Happened
Despite being an early ratings champion, Dark Angel quickly found itself a show that seemed to constantly be on the so-called bubble with the network. The ratings were never particularly terrible, but the show was fairly costly and needed much higher ratings than it was getting to justify the budget, an issue that stretched all the way back to the show’s first season.
While Cameron and company were pulling out all the stops to get Fox to consider a third season, the network apparently only just barely agreed to a second one.
Dark Angel was on its way to joining the legion of one-season wonders when Cameron used his considerable influence to convince Fox to give it another shot, which it did. The show then moved to Friday nights, all but guaranteeing it wouldn’t find the audience it needed.
8 The Renewal Fake-Out
For a time, it seemed as though James Cameron’s season two season finale directing stunt had paid off, and convinced the suits at Fox to green-light a third season for Dark Angel.
“They called us on Saturday… and told us we’d been picked up,” Cameron said in an interview. “We got together Saturday night and celebrated.” It’s not clear what happened over at Fox that Sunday, but fast forward to Monday morning, and Cameron got a very different call.
Cameron said he was then informed, “No, you’re not on the schedule! It’s been changed,” less than 48 hours after being told season 3 was a go. “I’ve never heard of that happening,” he marveled.
Cameron and the rest of the crew even had meetings already scheduled with Fox for the following day to discuss the third season, which were then canceled.
7 How Season 3 was supposed to end
With the creative team behind Dark Angel being told they count count on a third season, they obviously already had big plans for where the story was going to go next and, of course, ended season two on a cliffhanger with numerous plot threads left hanging.
Luckily, there are always ways to carry on and finish a story even when it can’t be done on television. Following the lead of other prematurely canceled sci-fi shows of the time, the Dark Angel saga was wrapped up in a trilogy of novels by author Max Allan Collins (most famous for the Road to Perdition comic book series).
We won’t spoil anything on the off chance you weren’t aware of these books and are curious to read them, but rest assured things are indeed brought to a legitimate conclusion.
6 Max and Logan in real life
As it goes on many TV shows, love blossomed on the set of Dark Angel, with Jessica Alba and her co-star Michael Weatherly (Logan Cale) entering a high-profile three-year relationship that even resulted in an engagement.
Alba later opened up about the relationship, saying that the 12-year age difference was difficult to get past (and never sat very well with her extremely religious family), and she got a tattoo to commemorate their break-up in part because “he was really anti-tattoos” and that after their split she “found herself again.”
Alba is currently married to Cash Warren, and the couple have three children together. Weatherly, who went on to play Anthony DiNozzo for 13 seasons on NCIS, is also currently married with children.
5 Abandoned Character Traits
Whether it was because of the flagging ratings or increasingly sour critical reception, Dark Angel definitely saw some pretty major changes between seasons one and two. A few of those involved main character Max, and completely abandoning several previously important facets of her character.
When Max was introduced, she was said to have some kind of disease that would cause seizures if she didn’t take tryptophan to battle it.
This was never addressed in any way in the second season, and she seemingly didn’t get the seizures or have to take the medicine anymore. The first season also described Max as sharing some of her DNA with cats, which caused her to go “into heat” from time to time. This was also never mentioned again beyond season one.
4 How Dark Angel Inspired Avatar
Dark Angel was not only James Cameron’s first foray into the world of non-documentary television, but it was also one of the first times he had to collaborate in a “writers room” type of environment– two things that he speaks very highly of and says influenced his later film career.
Cameron even went as far as to say that Dark Angel‘s production was “the best experience [he] had working with other writers” – high praise from someone who didn’t seem to keen on returning to television after that.
He also explained how the process of having to write a whole season’s worth of shows simultaneously helped him learn how to do the same with movies, and that he is applying many of those same principles to his current project of developing multiple Avatar sequels in tandem.
3 Jessica Alba Felt Objectified
There’s no getting around it: much of Dark Angel‘s promotional materials, as well as the show itself, focused heavily on the beauty of star Jessica Alba.
The show itself definitely wasn’t as guilty of it as the various ads, but Alba she felt uncomfortable about the way she was marketed.
Alba recently said in an interview with Marie Claire magazine, “I felt like I was being objectified, and it made me uncomfortable.” Pointing out that she was only 19 when the show hit the air, she further elaborated, “Right away, everyone formed a strong opinion of me because of the way I was marketed.”
How would she have preferred to be portrayed? “I wanted to be chic and elegant!” she told the magazine.
2 Public Enemy Wrote The Theme Song
While the score for Dark Angel was largely handled by veteran composer Joe McNeely– who has been working since the 1980s and whose most recent work can be heard on the sci-fi comedy The Orville— the show’s theme song was handled by a much more famous name.
Rapper Chuck D of pioneering rap group Public Enemy composed Dark Angel’s theme song alongside the group’s longtime producer Gary G-Wiz.
In an interview in the book Crime Fighting Heroes of Television, Gary G-Wiz said that he saw the gig as a chance to challenge himself and to push sonic boundaries, and that he and Chuck D had to retool the song several times after co-creator Charles Eglee kept urging them to make the song “crazier.”
1 Real World Drama Helped To Sink The Show
For the most part, if people are watching a show, it stays on the air– and if they aren’t, it doesn’t. So the question is less “Why did Fox cancel Dark Angel?” and more “Why did people stop watching Dark Angel?”
In the book The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television, author John Kenneth Muir has a pretty fascinating theory on what might have driven viewers away from the sci-fi series: it was simply starting to feel too real.
Whereas sad, oppressive futures are entertaining when they seem unlikely, things like the 9/11 attacks, the Enron scandal, and the impending recession made Dark Angel‘s world feel too much like a “depressing reminder that things could still get worse.”
Do you have any other Dark Angel trivia to share? Let us know in the comments!