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‘Project Blue Book’ TV series chronicles UFO research of former NU scientist

Aidan Gillen (left) stars on "Project Blue Book" as Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who works with Capt. Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey) on a study of UFO sightings. | History

J. Allen Hynek began his life as just “a little Czech boy from Chicago,” according to his son. He later became one of the country’s leading astronomers and the chairman of Northwestern University’s astronomy department.

Now, Allen is about to be featured on his own TV show, a drama called “Project Blue Book” premiering at 9 p.m. Tuesday on History, and named for Hynek’s study of UFO sightings for the U.S. government in the 1950s and 1960s.

The show centers on Allen (Aiden Gillen), a self-described “eccentric” scientist, who really comes off more intelligent than eccentric. He is recruited by the Air Force to prove that UFOs don’t exist. Partnered up with Air Force Capt. Michael Quinn (Michael Malarkey), Hynek travels the country to talk to people who claim to have had encounters with UFOs. The men work together, with some contention, to determine what actually happened during the supposed UFO sightings.

At first the sighting claims seem outlandish, but Allen, a scientist, is determined to uncover the truth.

J. Allen Hynek (Aiden Gillen ) discovers what appears to be an alien on “Project Blue Book.” | History
J. Allen Hynek (Aiden Gillen ) discovers what appears to be an alien on “Project Blue Book.” | History

The show is based on real events but has a little bit of Hollywood embellishment. Writer and executive producer Sean Jablonski estimated that about 75 percent of the show is factual and 25 percent is dramatized. He said the characters on the show were based on real people, but that some of the names were changed.

“It’s not about accuracy so much as it is authenticity,” said Allen’s son Paul Hynek, who serves as a consultant on the show. He helps the cast and crew more accurately capture his parents on screen. He said he gave the actors who play his dad and mom some clothing and knick-knacks that actually belonged to his parents.

Episodes focus on real UFO sighting claims that Hynek evaluated. Even though the series takes place during the UFO-obsessed 1950s, Jablonski said he thinks it will resonate with contemporary viewers.

“Blue Book — why I think it’s so relevant right now, it was the beginning of fake news,” he said. “It’s literally what the government crafted to say: ‘What you saw is not what you saw.’”

Paul said he believed his dad would think the show is “a rollicking good adventure” and his mom, Mimi Hynek, would think it is “a bunch of nonsense.”

Hynek said he believed when his father came to work at Northwestern in 1960, the university was more interested in his mainstream science research than his work with Project Blue Book.

“Northwestern never really liked very much their chairman of the Department of Astronomy galavanting around the world studying UFOs,” he said. “It was his mainstream science that they were interested in, and they just sort of begrudgingly put up with the UFO crap.”

His mother, meanwhile, was president of the Cook County League of Women voters. He said she was always in touch with racial and gender issues and also tried to help black families get around segregated housing policies.