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PURE GOLDER: Is The Timing Right For CSI: Discworld?

SFX ’s online editor assesses the competition the new Discworld City Watch TV show could be facing

Seriously, I don’t want to rain on Terry Pratchett’s parade. Oh, well, maybe a little summer shower – something he wouldn’t even notice under that wide brim of his ever-present hat. And I genuinely think the idea of an ongoing case-of-the-week CSI: Ankh-Morpork TV show sounds marvellous. With Terry Jones and Gavin Scott (who separately were responsible for two of my favourite fantasy films, Labyrinth and the vastly underrated Small Soldiers ) involved with the scripting, I have a feeling this could turn out to be something very special indeed.

But… there is a very big but.

I fear Terry and Prime Focus Productions could end up the victims of some spectacularly bad timing.

Have you seen the genre pilots that being produced for US TV this year? It seems that the idea of cross-pollinating procedural shows with fantasy is the latest rage in La La land.

There’s NBC’s Grimm , from showrunner David ( Buffy and Angel ) Greenwalt, a “fantastical police drama set in a world inhabited by characters from Grimm’s Fairy Tales”.

NBC is also making the pilot for former Galactica showrunner Ron Moore’s new show 17th Precinct , “an ensemble cop drama with supernatural elements, set in the fictional town of Excelsior where magic and supernatural elements rule over science.”

Then there’s Magical Law over at Fox ( Pirates Of The Caribbean director Gore Verbinksi is behind this one), a show that “will follow the cops and lawyers who are charged with prosecuting magical and paranormal crimes.”

It doesn’t stop there. The CW is developing Heavenly , about a young female lawyer who has help from an angel (and we’d like to see this one commissioned to a full series just because the angel has a name that deserves to go down in the annals of TV history – Dashiel Coffee).

(ABC has Once Upon A Time from former Lost producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis simmering away, which apparently has “a modern-day take on fairy tales” so it is in the same general area, but doesn’t appear to have the procedural element… yet, anyway.)

Even over here in the UK we already have Eternal Law in development fro ITV. This is yet another angelic legal drama, created by Life On Mars ’s Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham, about two angels sent to Earth to work for a law firm in York.

Did we say cross-pollination? It’s beginning to sound more like inbreeding.

I can understand the thinking behind this new trend. Episodic TV is back in fashion in the States. The serialised storytelling that developed and grew in popularity through the ’80s and ’90s and reached its zenith with Lost and 24 has increasingly been suffering from the law of diminishing returns in the last few years ( Flash Forward , The Event). Conversely, case-of-the-week shows are going from strength to strength: Castle, The Mentalist, House (which is just a cop show in a medical guise really), the CSIs … these are what are really getting the viewing figures at the moment (in terms of drama, anyway).

So it makes sense for sci-fi and fantasy to take the procedural format and give it a twist or two. Hell, it worked for Life On Mars . If some of these new shows can create something half as decent I’ll be happy, and there’s the potential that one or two of them could be major break-out hits.

But where does that leave CSI: Ankh-Morpork ? In the now-famous production meeting that took place at SF towers, producer Rod Brown mentioned it was important for them to sell the show to the US. Would it better, then, if some of these shows succeeded or if all of them failed? If some do succeed, the Discworld show runs the risk of trying to break into an overcrowded market as some Johnny-Come-Lately latching onto the bandwagon, and suffer as a result. On the other hand, if none of these shows succeed, CSI: Discworld may never see the light of day because broadcasters will go, “Nah, tried that. Doesn’t work.”

Or maybe, just maybe, the Sir Pratchett factor will be enough to make all these factors melt away into inconsequential details, and I’m worrying for nothing. Because believe me, I really do want to sit down in 18 months or a couple of year’s time and watch The Watch . Or whatever it ends up being called.