Pilot Graveyard

SFX looks the scripts for the US SF&F pilots that didn’t make the grade this year and asks why

So, the US pilot season is over, and now we know which ones were given the greenlight and which ones were given “close but no cigar” treatment.

SFX has managed to take a look at the look at scripts for some of the rejected SF and fantasy pilots, and over the following few pages we let you know what you’re missing and try to work out why they didn’t make the grade.

Also, keep an eye out for an accompanying feature coming your way very soon, where we look at the telefantasy scripts that did past muster (at least in the eyes of the Hollywood suits). But for now, let’s have a look at the losers.

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17th Precinct

Network: NBC
Main showrunner: Ron Moore ( Battlestar Galactica )
Main stars: Esai Morales, Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Tricia Helfer

[caption id="attachment_50948" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="James Callis filming 17th Precinct"]

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Script review/analysis: The series would have been set in a city called Excelsior that’s the spitting image of San Francisco, except magic is part of the very fabric of this Neopaganistic world. Cops in the 17th Precinct investigate cases with spells, use gun-like disks (called a gladius) and necromancers are their coroners. At crime scenes those necromancers talk with shades (or departed spirits) to get the 411 on how that person died or to gather clues that help solve the case at hand. Overall, there’s a very eco-inherent vibe about Excelsior with the abundance of lush, integrated plant life everywhere, even inside office buildings, and the other core elements like fire and water all actively feeding the underlying magic.

However don’t expect chocolate frogs or whomping willows here, as their magic is very grounded in realistic ritual rather than the whimsy at the heart of Harry Potter ’s mythology. Moore’s world-building is all about hardcore, organic spell-casting, used like the forensics in any episode of CSI or Bones .

In the pilot, the murder of Excelsior’s Executive Prophet is the case that allows the important cop players (and their powers) to get introduced as they work his murder and ultimately uncover that a big bad is coming to terrorise the city. The script spends lot of time laying out how the world works and that makes for some cool imagined VFX scenes, but sadly there’s not a lot of connection with the core characters. All of the cops are essentially exposition machines, á là Law & Order , without much humour, making for a relatively dry introduction. Moore also relies a lot on implied magical terms and concepts that may spark genre fan imaginations, but will most definitely lose plenty of mainstream viewers.

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Locke and Key

Network: Fox
Main showrunner: Josh Friedman ( Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles )
Main stars: Nick Stahl, Jessie McCartney, Miranda Otto

Script review/analysis: Genuinely moody, mysterious and spine-tinglingly scary, Josh Friedman’s teleplay adaptation of Joe Hill’s massively-popular limited graphic novel series Locke And Key is one pilot that should have made the pick-up grade. The pilot is essentially the entire “Welcome to Lovecraft” six-issue arc distilled most effectively into one beguiling hour.

The pilot starts by introducing the happily married Lockes, Russell and Nina, along with their three well adjusted kids – eldest son Ty (16), daughter Kinsey (15) and youngest Bode (6) – all living peacefully in California. By the end of the teaser, violent tragedy strikes via the hands of Sam, one of Ty’s schoolmates, leaving Russell dead and the Locke family changed forever.

Fast-forward as they start anew at the massive, dormant Locke family estate in Maine. Russell’s artist brother, Duncan, opens the house for them and remains to help them adjust. Ty and Kinsey are deeply wounded by their loss (for more reasons revealed in flashback), but Bode is immediately enamoured with the old house stuffed with antiquities and lots of keys. He discovers one with a carved skull, tries it on a locked door, crosses the threshold and voila – dead Bode. Or dead body Bode, because his essence becomes a ghost that can float around the house until he returns to reanimate his corpse. That discovery leads Bode to meet an entity named Dodge at the bottom of a well. Turns out Dodge is long associated with the Locke clan and has unfinished business with them.

What unfolds is very engaging set-up for the series, replete with unsettling moments and great character development. Let’s hope this finds a new network home.

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Wonder Woman

Network: NBC
Main showrunner: David E. Kelley ( Ally McBeal )
Main stars: Adrianne Palicki, Cary Elwes, Elizabeth Hurley

Script review/analysis: Believe it or not, it’s been 32 years since Lynda Carter graced the small screen as Wonder Woman and despite many attempts since, no one has been able to get the Amazon princess back on live-action television. Successful series creator David E Kelley took a whack at it this pilot season, and judging by his script, he too was stymied by the notion of contemporising this superhero without including copious amounts of cheese.

Is her shiny costume to blame? Does merely introducing cameras into her mythology automatically dumb down this heroine and her world by 100 IQ points? How come the animation and sequential art versions of WW have created very credible and smart tales about her crime fighting existence yet live TV can’t?

In this script, the flaws come from trying to pop culture-humanise Diana like a girly-girl. The pilot opens with Wonder Woman chasing a suspect down Hollywood Blvd, literally running into celebrity impersonators and even tired versions of herself. What might have been fun becomes immediately cliché as Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” runs under the action. In the world of this pilot, the public knows Diana Themyscira (aka Wonder Woman) and she’s a mega celeb in the sphere of Angelina Jolie. She runs Themyscira Industries to fund her crime-fighting activities, authorising (with plenty of sanctimonious speeches) her likeness on dolls and lunchboxes around the globe. But all is not well for Diana as she’s increasingly criticised by cable pundits and Congress for being thug-like and infringing the rights of the citizenry. Plus, she’s lonely… sad, ice cream-eating lonely.

Aside from her BFF Myndi and her roundtable of employed horny geeks called the Animals, Diana is alone. Four years ago she gave up her one true love, Steve Trevor (with some particularly leaden dialogue) so she could fight injustice. Now she’s stuck, can’t get back to Paradise and is pretty annoyingly self-righteous. Plus her invisible plane is now a BMW Ultimate Aircraft…in an assorted rainbow of colours. Couple that with a lame villainess and a mopey, non-empowered ending – this is not the Wonder Woman fans want to see.
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Poe

Network: ABC
Main showrunners: Chris Hollier, Brad Kern ( Charmed )
Main stars: Chris Egan, Kevin McNally, Natalie Dormer

Script review/analysis: Fashioned as a period piece set in 1840’s Boston, the Poe pilot comes across like Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock character somehow landed in the witty, procedural format of ABC’s Castle . The sallow, morose Edgar Allan Poe that readers have come to know over the last 170 years is nowhere to be found in this series. Instead this Poe is a vibrant, slightly pickled Sentinel reporter who moonlights as a Boston PD consultant specialising in the tough-to-solve paranormal/occult cases under the jurisdiction of Commissioner Kyle Kilpatrick.

Poe also works side-by-side with fellow feisty reporter, and his dead partner’s former fiancée, Celeste Chevalier. Think of them as the more formally-attired Mulder and Scully. While investigating, CeCe (as Poe calls her) always errs on the side of facts, while Poe teases and challenges her to look outside of the box.

In the pilot, the trio investigates a woman who seems possessed by a demon that creates a branching tree pattern on her back before she murders wealthy businessmen. The case unfolds like every other criminal procedural show, except that infancy forensic techniques, page-flipping and lots of prescient mental cognition take the place of today’s tech. Writer Chris Collier peppers quite a few identifiable Poe lore Easter eggs through the dialogue and stage notes, which would have been fun for fans of the author to discover. But he also takes a lot of liberties with historical inaccuracies like setting the series in Boston rather than Baltimore or Philadelphia. Couple that with some anachronistic pitfalls in the dialogue (there was no such thing as “mouth-to-mouth” in the 1800s) that pulls focus and just seems lazy. There’s was certainly potential as a costume drama procedural but we’re fine this is nevermore.
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Awakening

Network: The CW
Main showrunners: Bill Laurin & Glenn Davis
Main stars: Lucy Griffiths, Meredith Hagner, Titus Welliver

Script review/analysis: Colour us surprised that a TV pilot actually features a fresh way to dramatise the undead. After the comedy of Zombieland and the melodrama of AMC’s The Walking Dead , the genre’s now feeling a bit worn out, yet co-creators Bill Laurin & Glenn Davis have fashioned a female-skewing, coming-of-age zombie series that would have been a lot of fun to watch evolve.

Awakening centres on the Lestrade sisters, Jenna and Jayce. Jenna is the oldest, working as a successful lawyer in New York’s DA’s office. Jayce is the younger, self-absorbed sibling who’s newly in love and coming into her own. They don’t see eye-to-eye much at all – what with Jenna’s former bulimia problem and Jayce’s cavalier lifestyle – but they’re making an effort to get closer and reconnect with their suburban parents as well. It’s all very identifiable and nuclear family like until a gathering for Thursday dinner reveals a smorgasbord of finely cooked human body parts.

Yes, the Lestrades are zombies, living like humans, but there’s a rumbling amongst their people who are tired of not eating fresh meat and hiding their true selves. An awakening is brewing, but the majority of mankind is clueless, except for undercover agents known as Hunters. They chase unusual disappearances and deaths in hopes of rooting out the restless undead so they can quell the zombie’s need to feed.

Awakening manages to ably mix its family drama with straight-up gore and that’s probably why it didn’t get picked up. A lot more raw than The Vampire Diaries yet overall lighter in tone, we’re not sure mainstream broadcast networks could do this show justice. It feels like a cable gem that needs to be unfettered by censors, exploring its dark humour and horror in equal measure while catering to a receptive niche audience.
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Heavenly

Network: The CW
Main showrunner: Richard Hatem ( The Gates )
Main stars: Ben Aldridge, Lauren Cohan, Elizabeth Ho

Script review/analysis: One of the lighter genre scripts out there this pilot season, Heavenly owes more than a passing resemblance to previous angel-themed works like Wings Of Desire and Touched By An Angel .

Half legal procedural and half star-struck romance, the plot revolves around Dashiell Coffee, a literal angel of the crisis moment. He’s sent down from the heavens to protect or guide a person that is experiencing a pivotal crossroads. After a lifetime of service helping people in need he finds himself touching Lily DeMarco, a woman injured during a gas leak explosion. Their eyes meet and Coffee actually feels a real connection with her as he remembers that he helped save her life before when she was four-years old. A double save is completely new to him and he’s so thrown that he asks God to make him human so he can continue to save people as one of them. God grants his request and we get to see a Starman -lite version of Dashiell cutely naming himself, revelling in the small gifts of everyday life and then running into his soul mate Lily at her pro bono (of course) law firm.

As a romance and a procedural Heavenly unfolds by the numbers, albeit charmingly. There’s lots of earnest human intentions, crossed-wires when it comes to communication and faith-based challenges. Coffee gets to relish his first Oreo and impress Lily with his humanity (oh, irony). Gratefully, Hatem tempers the religion with some lust and sin so it’s not altogether squeaky clean. The legal procedural aspect is just a means to the end when it comes to opening the eyes of the participants and inciting the lesson of the day. None of it is bad; it’s just sweet and not very memorable.