Kevin Burns Interview: Ancient Aliens Creator Hits Alien Con

Ancient Aliens creator Kevin Burns brings an inquisitive mind to Alien Con.

Science fiction, fact and future, will buddy up at the 1st Annual Alien Con in Santa Clara, California, from October 28 to Oct. 30, leaving plenty of cleanup time for Halloween. The event is being put together by Cosmic Con and the HISTORY Channel, which has been broadcasting Ancient Aliens for 11 seasons. The pop science future show sees Alien Con as a happy petri dish of celebrities, scientists, writers, and comic book creators and alien enthusiasts.

Ancient Aliens, hosted by Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, is a breathless probe of interplanetary possibilities, sometimes plausible, often wildly speculative, but forever hopeful. Created by Kevin Burns, who is such a fan of Lost In Space that he is producing the reboot for Neflix, the show mixes a little scrutiny and a lot of wonder. Burns is okay with that. He knows the ratio of informed guess to wild investigation equals out whenever something, anything new is brought to the table.

Burns is all about keeping an open dialogue, which is why he is so enthusiastic about Alien Con, where he will be able to exchange ideas with fans of the show. This is also why Kevin Burns spoke exclusively with Den of Geek. He enjoys the exchange. The veteran producer of The Girls Next Door, Hollywood Science, Food Paradise and Attack of the 50 Foot Monster Mania is as much a student as a teacher as he keeps vigilant watch on the skies and the crowds for whatever he might learn.

Den of Geek: What are your favorite conspiracies?

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Kevin Burns: I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I tend to believe, as evidenced by WikiLeaks, that no one can keep a secret for very long. Everyone talks and most secrets get found out.

Do you separate conspiracy theories between the ones you enjoy and the ones you might believe?

Such as?

Oh, say the Illuminati?

I think the Illuminati is an intriguing notion. There’s a fascinating history. It stretches back to the Crusades and the days of the Knights Templar and the idea that the Rosicrucians kind of begin the Freemasons at arguably about the same time in the 1700s and 1800s, as the Illuminati. It’s a pretty thinly kept secret that there is such a thing as the Bilderberg Group and the Council on Foreign Relations and the New World Order. I would even dare to say that this election, personalities and notions of personal corruption notwithstanding, is really about globalism versus nationalism. If the Illuminati exists, its agenda seems to be globalism.

So do I think there is an elite group of insiders that has a megalomaniacal notion of humanity and how to manage it for their own financial gain and even, presumably, for humanity’s own best welfare? Yes, I think that’s been borne out by a lot of what’s coming out through WikiLeaks. I’m just saying that’s not so much a conspiracy theory as a conspiracy fact.

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This is the first Alien Con. Do you expect a people will be presenting you with home-spun evidence and found footage?

Well, I can’t say that for sure but I do know this convention was born of that kind of event. I was invited, a few years ago, to a convention by Phil Kim who’s putting on Alien Con with the History Channel. He invited me to come out with Giorgio and Bill Mumy to this convention in Roswell, New Mexico. I was excited because I’d never been to Roswell. For a town of 40,000 people, it was a very well-attended convention.

We not only had a great time but there was a gentleman who introduced himself to me who had what he had what he called the “Roswell Rock.” It was fascinating because I could not for the life of me just dispel it. It did not look molded. It did not look constructed. It didn’t look man-made, even though it was certainly not natural. We ended up doing a series for H2 called In Search of Aliens with Giorgio, and the first episode, in fact the pilot, was on the Roswell Rock.

The gentlemen appeared on the show. We put the rock through a lot of tests and we could not to dispel it as something that is still a very significant anomaly. What’s also interesting is that the design of that rock was identical to a crop circle that had been discovered, I think, shortly before the rock was discovered. The rock was found in the middle of the desert in Roswell where no one could have predicted anyone could have found it.

Anyway, a lot of intriguing realities came out at that convention and I’m hoping there are people up here. I went to another show with Erich von Daniken and Giorgio called the Paradox Symposium. I don’t go to a lot of these things, but it is great to see the fans and the extent of interest there is for Ancient Aliens. A lot of people said could you please do a show about this. It was actually very instrumental, for myself and the producers, in coming up with all sorts of new ideas. So, yes, I’m hoping we get to meet the fans who could tell us what they like about what we’re doing and what we haven’t done yet they’d like to see. It’s a celebration but it’s also an opportunity to do kind of a workshop.

When critics say Ancient Aliens episodes are based on pseudoscience, do you think they’re missing the point?

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Yes. I think it’s funny because when I approached Giorgio with Ancient Aliens originally, when I came up with it and conceived it, it kind of came out of an Indiana Jones special we did for Lucas Films. It took me only look at the poster for Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls to know that it was going to be based on the ancient astronaut theories, Erich von Daniken and Chariots of the Gods.  I got excited again about the whole ancient astronaut theory. I met with Giorgio and I talked to the network and I asked Giorgio “do you believe this” and he said “I don’t believe, it I know it.” Giorgio asked what my take on it was. I said “I’m an open-minded skeptic. I’m not a cynic.” I’m open-minded about it. That’s why the narrator of the show, who I like to think I is echoing my own voice, is a questioner.

There may be pseudoscience presented by some of the theorists. There’s no question that some of the theories presented by the interviewees are, even for me, far-fetched. Or I don’t know that they’re true. They believe them to be true. I allow our presenters to speak based on their own research, their own observation and their own beliefs. I take them at their word. All we do is say “if this is true this could also be true.” I work very hard, along with the producers of the show, to be sure that the narrator never speaks anything that isn’t absolutely fact. For instance, if the narrator says such and such happened in 1923, it happened in 1923. If the narrator says mainstream science believes X to be true then mainstream science believes it to be X.

What we do is we give our interviewees the benefit of their theory because one thing is usually always true about the things we talk about and no one knows otherwise. In other words no one really can explain certain ancient architectural sophistication or how the Easter Island monoliths were put in place. We have theories. People believe they used logs or rolled them on stones, but they don’t know.

We are a species with collective amnesia. So my feeling is science and religion are both to attempt to explain the unknown. I think it’s arrogant to suggest that one is more valid than the other. You can argue that religion is pseudoscientific. That religion is an attempt to explain things that are otherwise not explainable. So I take umbrage at pseudoscience. Science itself has not come up with a factual explanation. Science can say we believe that elongated skulls were made by the bonding of a baby’s head, but that doesn’t explain why some of them don’t have a cranial fission. So when somebody else asks does it have alien DNA or is there something in human DNA that is missing from every other kind of the DNA on the planet of there’s some X gene? Well, science can’t disprove that, so we suggest that we’re open to that theory.

Ancient Aliens, to me, is not pseudoscience. It’s an Indulgence of something I genuinely do believe, which is there is more in this universe than we can understand with our limited scientific experience and ability. Science and religion are both trying to explain the wonder of the universe and I think it is arrogant to suggest one is truer than the other and it is arrogant to think that we know everything there is to know.

Have you had your own personal beliefs shaken? Are you scare of things like The Doomsday Prophecies?

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No, not really. Listen, I was raised Catholic and I wasn’t terrified at all of that. [Laughs] When you’re a five-year-old kid and you’re told that you were born with original sin and that you’re gonna go to hell if you’re not baptized, if that doesn’t scare you, nothing will. But I will say, I personally believe the success of Ancient Aliens is in direct reaction to the fact that we live, at least in this country, in a more and more secular society and that science has set itself up as its own kind of religion. It is a secular religion that wants to make you believe that we are nothing special, we are nothing but a happenstance of molecules, an accident of evolution. That humankind’s sentience, our ability to create art, music poetry, literature, as explained by science, is only a coin’s flip from us being monkeys or Neanderthals. Yet there’s something in our subconscious doesn’t feel comfortable with that explanation. There’s something that doesn’t ring true. That we are nothing to be a mass of molecules and that the big bang explains the universe. In my opinion, it doesn’t.

I was talking with one of the producers at Cosmos and he was marveling at the success of Ancient Aliens as opposed to the Cosmos at the Fox network. And I said “you put a period at the end of the sentence and we don’t. Your first episode said the how long ago the Big Bang theory happened.” I said, no offense but nobody believes that anybody knows that, assuming that it ever even happened. In other words, our show allows the audience to make up its own mind and our show allows it to wonder. I think that’s what’s exciting about the show.

In terms of the convention, is I wanted to create a bigger tent that would embrace science fiction, science fact and science future. Phil Ken came up with that for the marketing, I thought that was perfect, that is what we want Ancient Aliens to be. Some people have said haven’t you cheapened it by putting in science fiction and movies and TV. I said no, those are the people who have opened our minds to possibilities. In science fact, the science future is the science fiction of yesterday.

We’re finding new things over and over. In the years since we’ve been doing Ancient Aliens, so many things have come out: on robotics, about artificial intelligence. Even in the news, there’s a possible finding of an aluminum alloy that could be hundreds of thousands of years old, much older than our knowledge of metallurgy. I read something in the news today about possible UFOS. Even Stephen Hawking acknowledges this. This is radical from where we were when was as a kid. Any notion of alien life forms or extraterrestrial visitation, or even life on Mars or life on the moon, was thought to be ridiculous. I think that, if anything, Ancient Aliens opens the mind and paves the way to a future that we may be headed for.

Did you see the South Park’s “A History Channel Thanksgiving” episode from 11/11/11?

Hysterical, just hysterical. I also thought it was hysterical because it starts out satirical in terms of the show. They had the slash cuts of the aliens and Thanksgiving and little alien heads and “There’s no evidence of dressing before 1620. How do we know it’s not from extraterrestrials?” [Laughs] On the one hand it’s kind of taking a jaundiced eye toward ancient astronaut theory but by the end of the episode it dominates, so it was very cool.

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Speaking of science fiction or science fact, you produced a bunch of Alien Nation movies without taking credit and there’s a cable channel that recently ran marathons of Time Tunnel and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which was more supernaturally centered than you might think. You chose to remake these. What grabbed you about them?

As a kid, my three favorite TV shows were The Munsters, Lost in Space and Batman. I loved them. I was lucky enough, when I got older and started working in Hollywood and working at 20th Century Fox, to get to know the actors and work with them and hire them and do their biographies for A&E. But, Lost in Space in particular, and all of the Irwin Allen shows, which included Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, were spectacularly visual, very imaginative. I was always very drawn as a child. I used to draw all the time as a kid and I was very much drawn to things that were visual. Things that were fantastic in terms of the space ships and the special effects and the monsters. So that was very stimulating.

Irwin Allen was doing science fiction movies on the small screen. That was what I was mostly familiar with when I was seven, eight, ten years old. For me as a kid, being able to watch something like that in your living room was a big deal. Of course, as you grow up, you realize how hard it was to do them on such a tiny 1964, 1965 budget. But Irwin tended to start these series very straightforward. Lost in Space, in the first few episodes, was very serious and somber, action-adventure science fiction. As it went on, and very quickly, it became more fantasy adventure and it’s funny. I go back to Lost in Space to do the Blu-rays or whatever, and I think “oh my god, we did an Ancient Aliens on that.” There was an episode where they meet Thor and the Norse Gods. We did an episode on Aliens and Vikings.

There is a dimension in those early episodes and in the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episodes, that not only is science fiction and science fantasy based, but has a connection to the world of science futurism. Destinations to Mars and things like that.

My favorite Irwin Allen was Land of the Giants, which I always saw as a kind of Gilligan’s Island in space.

Well, Lost in Space was a Gilligan’s Island in space too.

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Yeah, but the Robinsons weren’t going on a three-hour tour. The shuttle craft on Land of the Giants was only supposed to be going from Los Angeles to London and they got lost on the way.

It’s still seven people stranded.

Did you ever wish that castaway aliens would wash up on Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches?

[Laugh] No, but I think she did. It’s funny, since you mention Bridget Marquardt, with whom I worked on The Girls Next Door, heavenly bodies of a different kind. But Bridget so believe in the paranormal. Totally, totally, totally. Still is. She would take pictures that were filled with orbs. She had all of these incredible extrasensory experiences. Very legitimate, she was very serious about it. She really did feel she had some kind of psychic ability or psychokinetic power. So it’s funny you mention that, but she was very sincere about that.

I always thought Bigfoot should be on the endangered species list. The first reaction people have is to kill it.

Yeah, I never could understand that. We did a Bigfoot episode as a kind of Could we even do bigfoot and what we turned up was fascinating. I think that Bigfoot was our own species before alien used splicing and that it could be a lost ancestor. The last run of a humanoid that might have escaped what we’ve become.

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Alien Con is really a dream come true. We do take ancient aliens very seriously. A lot of people who approach a show like this, the knockoffs, have not been successful because they are approached very cynically. Some people have asked why we don’t have skeptics in the show. If you were really trying to be scientifically honest in a show you’d have skeptics. Well, would you have a skeptic in a show about Jesus? Would you have a skeptic in a show about the Virgin Birth? At a certain point, we don’t want to create a feeling of open-mindedness and then undercut it with somebody who’s only comment is “well there’s no proof.”

I used to run a magazine called Daily Offbeat and we were advocates for the otherly.

I wouldn’t call myself an advocate for ancient astronaut theories as I am interested in it, I’m inquiring of it, I’m open to it. We use the show to explore the theories. I have to say, and this is true of almost every episode. We might put forward about six or seven or eight or ten stories or theories in an episode on a certain topic. Three or four of them, I would say to you: “I find that far-fetched, I don’t believe that. I think that’s a little much.” But there’s always four or five of them where you say I can’t explain them any other way. There’s no other explanation for it. So I have to say, I started as an open minded skeptic but, I’m still open minded but slightly less skeptical.

Do I think we’re on to something? I think every year I realize, with everything in the headlines, that we may very well be on to something bigger than we ever thought possible.

HISTORY Channel and Cosmic Con’s the 1st Annual ALIEN CON is happening on October 28-30 in Santa Clara, CA. You can get tickets here. You can read Kevin Burns talk about Shiva the Destroyer and the spiritual roots of ancient astronauts here.