Watch Jake McDorman and Patrick J. Adams in the The Right Stuff Comic-Con at Home teaser
The Mercury Seven astronauts are ready to blast off into the cosmos in the Disney+ and National Geographic collaboration The Right Stuff, but first audiences must go on a journey with Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman), John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams), Gordon Cooper (Colin O'Donoghue), Scott Carpenter (James Lafferty), Gus Grissom (Michael Trotter), Wally Schirra (Aaron Staton), and Deke Slayton (Micah Scott) as the premiere United States space program begins to take shape.
In the Comic-Con at Home teaser, debuting exclusively on EW, a large group of military test pilots try out to become astronauts and partake in a stringent selection process in 1959. Fans are invited to watch the virtual event for The Right Stuff, premiering on Disney+ this fall, starting at 4 p.m. ET via this YouTube link.
"The series starts a little bit later than Tom Wolfe starts his book, in fact, a lot later because he starts with the test pilots before the Mercury astronauts come along," series executive producer and showrunner Mark Lafferty tells EW. "We start in 1959, right before the first seven astronauts were chosen and then we go right through to the end of the first manned space flight, which is Alan Shepard's flight in May of 1961. So it's a period of about a little less than two years. Sometimes our episodes will have a bit of a time jump in between the episodes but it's pretty seamless."
But don't expect the series to merely be a history lesson, there's also personal and professional drama. Visually, The Right Stuff recalls the fell and style of Catch Me If You Can and AMC's Mad Men. But the comparisons don't end there. Lafferty hints that McDorman's Shepard shares a number of qualities with Don Draper (portrayed by Jon Hamm).
"We wanted to show just how competitive these guys were, and how, right from the start, they're all sizing each other up," he explains. "It's no mistake, that the scene from the Comic-Con clip ends with our two most prominent pilots John Glenn and Alan Shepard kind of sizing one other up which sets the tone for the rivalry between these two men."
He adds, "Their lives outside of work are also a big part of the story. For Glenn, we have a guy who is dealing with so much unbridled ambition. He was probably the only one of the Mercury Seven, who had a truly happy marriage and didn't cheat on his wife. But he has some inner demons and he was a bit of an outsider in this group of cocky, hard-drinking, card playing, group of individuals. We get to see how that not only affects his career but also his home life with his wife Annie [portrayed by Nora Zehetner].
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McDorman, who previously starred on the short-lived CBS drama Limitless, teases the rivalry between Shepard and Gleen, and shares insight into the personal aspects of his character that the series will explore.
"As you know, John Glenn was a very private person who was great at a press conference and incredible with giving the right soundbite. He was an ace pilot in the Korean war, a decorated pilot," McDorman explains. "He had also been on some game shows so he was well acquainted with the spotlight. Where Shephard was all about the work and all about the methodical nature of being an efficient test pilot. Glenn was a squeaky clean, Christian man and Shepard wasn't. It was very much this rivalry between competing ideologies and ethos. And both were incredibly both still incredibly cutthroat and ambitious."
He adds, "All the astronauts, except for John Glenn, are all fighter jocks who love a good whiskey and cigars — total Don Drapers of their time. Calling them adrenaline junkies would be putting it mildly. They were working in a field where only 1 out of 3 survived annually, or something like that. The Right Stuff really shows these people who are comfortable with fear and how they lived like it too. Alan Shepard definitely had his vices and he wasn't shy about it, which for me was very fun to play."
Lafferty explains that he has a lot of plans for the show's future should they be given the chance to develop another season. He's interested in possibly diving further into the stories of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, as well as the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
"There are so many facets of this era and this idea of space flight that I really hope audiences can see," he says. "In the first season of The Right Stuff, the Mercury Seven were seven white guys. I'm a father and I have two young girls and I hope that as we mover further through the series and hopefully into further seasons, our plan has always been that in the long arc of NASA and the course of many decades that we can tell other stories.
"We'd love to talk about Jerrie Cobb, one of the Mercury 13 astronauts who up until recently not a lot of people knew about. There's also Ed Dwight, the first African-American test pilot who has an important story we'd love to tell. When the program first opened, it was only available to a few White American test pilots but over time things evolved and opened the door for Sally Ride and so many others who ultimately broke through. We hope The Right Stuff is the launch of a story but it isn't the full story."
There are also two tidbits from pop culture history that he'd love to appear in the future related to space history. Series executive producer Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed 1960's fraudster Fred Abagnale in Catch Me if You Can, who could easily catch a launch on television while zipping through airports while impersonating a pilot. And Barbara Eden, who played a 2,000-year-old genie, who meets and falls in love with her astronaut master on I Dream of Jeannie, is still very much alive.
"With Leo, that, unfortunately, didn't happen this season because he was working on this behind-the-scenes through his production company," Lafferty says. "I have to say, it would be a dream come true to pull something like that off in a future season. And as far as Barbara Eden is concerned, oh my God! That would be a dream come true too. Maybe in season 2 if she watches and is a fan of our show, we could maybe twist her arm. I grew up watching her on summer afternoons and there's a warm spot in my heart for Barbara Eden."