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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 2003 – PART 2

Written By:

Alan Boon
telephemera 2003 wonderfalls

Ah, telephemera… those shows whose stay with us was tantalisingly brief, snatched away before their time, and sometimes with good cause. They hit the schedules alongside established shows, hoping for a long run, but it’s not always to be, and for every Knight Rider there’s two Street Hawks. But here at STARBURST we celebrate their existence and mourn their departure, drilling down into the new season’s entertainment with equal opportunities square eyes… these are The Telephemera Years!

2003-04

By the turn of the twenty-first century, the hegemony of the big three networks had well and truly been blown apart by a new, multi-channel reality. While ABC, CBS, and NBC still churned out a new season of promising hopefuls each year, they had to contend with competition from the cable networks, and while Alias, NYPD Blue, ER, and the final season of Friends were all blockbuster hits on ABC and NBC, the likes of Fox and UPN were stealing eyeballs across the schedules.

Offbeat humour from King of the Hill, Malcolm in the Middle, That 70s Show, The Simpsons, and new arrival Arrested Development ran wild on Fox, while The WB ensured teens were well catered for with Angel, Charmed, Smallvile, and their new emo show One Tree Hill, rivalled only by The OC beginning its four-season run on Fox. In response, the only new network shows to make any kind of impact were Joan of Arcadia and Two and a Half Men on CBS, but that’s not why we’re here. This is the story of even more 2003 shows that didn’t catch on…

Tarzan (The WB): The legend of Tarzan has been given the present-day treatment before, but rarely has it had to contend with the teen and twentysomething target audience of The WB, who want to see as many bare chests (male, of course, always male) as they can get their eyes on and don’t particularly care whose chest it is.

The chest in this remake, from the pen of future Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, belongs to Travis Fimmel, an Australian model making his acting debut as the titular lord of the apes, transported to twenty-first-century New York after having been lost in the jungle for twenty years. Firmly under the thumb of his rich uncle (played with sinister glee by Mitch Pileggi), Tarzan finds respite by exploring the urban jungle, where he encounters NYPD detective Jane (get it?) Porter.

telephemera 2003 tarzan

Kripke wrote the pilot and was satisfied with his work but, he told Livejournal, he hadn’t intended it to become a series, and when The WB ordered twelve more episodes he was in bind. Still, a gig’s a gig and he gamely wrote a full season, which he called “a piece of crap,” but The WB yanked the show off the air after just eight episodes.

The cast was good – with Lucy Lawless, Leighton Meester, and The Walking Dead’s Sarah Wayne Callies – but it was thin gruel and even the bare-chested Aussie model wasn’t succour enough for the network or its viewers. There are clips on YouTube but if you want full episodes you’re out of luck. And possibly a bit desperate.

Wonderfalls (Fox): From the ridiculous to the sublime, and Bryan Fuller’s follow-up to the bittersweet Dead Like Me, cascading onto TV screens in March 2004. Set in Niagara Falls, Wonderfalls stars Caroline Dhavernas as Jaye Tyler, a university graduate avoiding starting real life by living in a trailer and working in the eponymous gift shop.

telephemera 2003 wonderfalls

So far, so normal, except that the various trinkets she hawks start talking to her, giving her cryptic instructions that, at first, make little sense. Convinced she is having a breakdown, Jaye tries to ignore the voices but finally comes to see that they are pushing her towards solving the problems of those around her, and the people who pass through this most touristy of traps.

A native French speaker from Quebec, Dhavernas is incredible as world-weary Jaye, and Fuller gives her solid backing in the shape of cocktail waitress best friend Tracie Thoms, love interest Tyron Leitso, and put upon sister Katie Finneran, and the whole thing is wrapped up in a bundle of Fuller magic.

Fuller wrote the first season to be standalone, but with windows for sequels if it were successful enough to be picked up, but alas the ratings just weren’t as strong as Fox would have hoped, and any prospect of that second series went over the falls in a barrel. The second of what would eventually be a trilogy of delights when Pushing Daisies appeared in 2007, Wonderfalls is available – and recommended! – on DVD.

Skin (Fox): The works of William Shakespeare have not only provided the backbone of provincial theatre and lazy English Literature teaching, they’ve also been quite the inspiration for TV producers across the globe. In 2003, Jim Leonard – who had earlier guided the US version of Cracker to fourteen disappointing episodes – was moved to develop a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, a story of two lovestruck teenagers from warring families.

telephemera 2003 skin

Adam Roam’s mum and dad are a senior judge and District Attorney, respectively, so it’s pretty poor form for their golden boy to fall in love with Jewel Goldman, a pretty sixteen-year-old whose dad happens to be one of Los Angeles’s foremost pornographers. To make things worse, Adam’s dad is up for re-election and children are disappearing, possibly linked to child pornography, and he’s a Catholic, she’s a Jew!

DJ Cotrona and Olivia Wilde are game enough as the star-crossed lovers, and Ron Silver admirably chews scenery as Larry Flynt Goldman, but even the appearance of Ginger Lynn Allen couldn’t get a rise out of viewers, who deserted the show in their droves, leaving Fox to pull the plug after just three episodes.

The remaining five episodes did get an airing two years later, on SOAPnet, leaving those who did see promise in the show to wonder if it hadn’t just been mis-scheduled; if you want to join their number, you can find some episodes on YouTube.

Kid Notorious (Comedy Central): The Kid Stays in the Picture, the 2002 adaptation of film producer Robert Evans’s autobiography of the same name, was a fascinating look at the career of the man behind Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, Chinatown, and The Godfather, and the obvious next step was an animated Comedy Central show, with Evans as a James Bond-like playboy who gets into sticky situations. Obviously.

Directed by Pete Michels, whose cv includes The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Rocko’s Modern Life, Kid Notorious was an absurd take on Evans’s life, with rap-themed Godfather musicals, forbidden love with middle eastern princesses, Martha Stewart’s bum, and the infiltration of a Neo-Nazi cell among the scrapes Evans finds himself in.

telephemera 2003 kid notorious

Evans played himself, as did Slash and Rob Schneider, and while the show is a million miles away from the documentary film that inspired it, it’s an irreverent take on Hollywood and the excesses of its denizens. It divided audiences, though, and its critics felt it self-indulgent; its first season ran through its run of episodes, and even with South Park as a lead-in there wasn’t enough of a response to warrant a second.

Although there was no DVD release, the full run can be found on video sharing sites, and it’s a fun tribute to Evans, who died in 2019 aged eighty-nine.

Next: Fire! Inventions! Ke-mo Sah-bee! The unsold pilots of 2003!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: 1966 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1968 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1969 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1971 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1973 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1975 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1977 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1980 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1982 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1984 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1986 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1987 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1990 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1992 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1995 (part 12, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1997 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2000 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2003 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2005 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2008 (part 1, 23, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

Titans of Telephemera: Stephen J Cannell (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Hanna-Barbera (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Glen A Larson (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Quinn Martin (part 1, 2)

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