At the end of the History Channel drama series Project Blue Book’s first season, a quintet of flying lights around the Washington Monument leads to a possible coverup and the discovery of a very familiar obelisk in Antartica. Like many incidents in the series, the DC scenes (which were shot in Vancouver and made to look realistic with effects magic) were based on a real event, the so-called “Washington Flap” of 1952.
“Every week we try to offer an earthly explanation, no matter how much a stretch that is,” series creator David O’Leary tells Washingtonian, “but we try to couple it with the ‘what if.'” The series embodies this push and pull in the characters played by Aidan Gillen and Michael Malarkey, who struggle with their growing sense that there’s more to UFOs than the official explanations—some of which they’ve offered to an anxious public.
Gillen plays J. Allen Hynek, a real-life astrophysicist who consulted on the real-life Project Blue Book and later came up with the “Close Encounter” scale. O’Leary got to know Hynek’s sons and learned about the UFO witnesses who would show up at their house when they were kids. He describes the Project Blue Book as “Real-life X Files set in the time of Mad Men,” which captures the show’s feel nicely.
Of his own beliefs, O’Leary says, “I tend to fall where Hynek fell: I do feel there’s something genuinely mysterious about this phenomenon; I don’t think it can all be explained away.”
Season two of Project Blue Book debuts Tuesday at 10 PM on the History Channel.