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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 2007, part 3

Written By:

Alan Boon
Area 57, 2007-08

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 Street Hawk there’s two Manimals. 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!

2007-08

Reality TV was king of the small screen in 2007, with the top five slots in the ratings filled by American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, but drama of the scripted kind was still making an impact as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, House, and Lost were all still pulling in big viewing figures across the four main networks. Both Jericho and The Wire were entering their final seasons, after which one of them at least would enter the annals of TV classics, but it was a bad time for fans of animated genre fare, with The Batman, Ben 10, and Space Ghost Coast to Coast all beginning their final runs.

There were tons of new arrivals, of course, with Breaking Bad making drug dealing fun again, while Chuck, Gossip Girl, Pushing Daisies, and Reaper all debuted. The geeks of The Big Bang Theory made their bow, and it became cool to laugh at people getting hurt again when Wipeout hit our screens, but those were the shows that made it to air – what about the ones that fell at the final hurdle? This is the story of 2007’s unsold pilots…

Demons (CBS): Although for many he will always be Augustus Hill in Oz, it’s probably fair to say that Harold Perrineau has struggled to escape the role of Michael in Lost, to the extent that his latest turn in From has been sold by some as “Lost but in a town.” In 2007, when he was a year removed from the hit show and having recently failed to agree terms on a return, he was cast as Mitch, a priest who acts as a confidante to Ron Eldard’s Gus, an ex-Jesuit priest-psychologist who performs exorcisms.

Gus is the main character in Demons, but all the press concentrated on the involvement of Perrineau, despite Eldard’s résumé already including (admittedly middling) roles in Black Hawk Down, Sleepers, and Deep Impact by this point, although for many he was best remembered for a one-season turn on ER, something he and Perrineau no doubt bonded over on set. He was fresh off Blind Justice, a short-lived Steve Bocchco show about a blind policeman apparently inspired by seeing a line of blind men shuffle onto a stage.

Perrineau’s casting even took precedence over the fact that the show was created by Barbara Hall, responsible for Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia, and that the pilot was directed by The Bodyguard‘s Mick Jackson. This may have been a portent because after a flurry of reports listing the show as a prospect for the Fall 2007 season, it was dropped like a stone by both CBS and those who report on such things.

Two years later, Philip Glenister made his post-Gene Hunt bow in ITV’s Demons, a completely different show that was primarily concerned with vampires, not demons, but for which the creators presumably held John Carpenter’s 1998 neo-Western horror in higher esteem than this failed pilot.

Area 57 (NBC): Mike Armstrong’s first big break came as part of the writing team on the MTV game show Remote Control before a series of other minor jobs lead a stint as head writer on The Carol Burnett Show, an unlikely gig for a writer with his finger seemingly on the pulse of what’s cool but everyone’s gotta make a living, right? A fair better fit was a much longer stay as head writer for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and it was while working in that position that his sitcom pitch Area 57 was picked up by NBC for a pilot.

Presumably six doors down from Area 51, Area 57 is a secret US military base tasked with investigating alien incursions on Earth and home to an actual alien that they captured forty years before. Matthew Lillard plays Colonel Steven Isaac, over the moon to be given his latest assignment to look after the alien, only to find that he’s actually an annoying (and flatulent) jerk.

Area 57, 2007-08

Paul Reubens was well cast as The Alien (who is never named, not that it helped Gordon Shumway escape being called ALF), with support coming from Kelly Hu, Jane Lynch, and Bruce McGill as the base’s staff, who have been driven wacky by forty years with their charge. Like The Office and its ilk, it’s a single camera workplace comedy, albeit one with a plot that would seem a little outré for the Dunder and Mifflin building.

The pilot was in contention to join the 2007 Fall season line-up, but the network passed, despite a solid cast and unique premise. Well, unique if you completely forget the existence of ALF and, indeed, American Dad!, but that didn’t stop Nick Frost and Simon Pegg borrowing it for Paul four years later…

Marlowe (ABC): An attempt to bring Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe into the modern day, Marlowe starred Jason O’Mara, an Irish actor who’d been trying to break the US for half a decade. After securing a regular role in The Agency, he headed up 2006’s In Justice, which lasted just thirteen episodes before cancellation, and he was signed to a golden handcuffs deal by ABC and Touchstone TV.

His Marlowe is a very different beast to the original, even if the pilot follows a traditional Chandler plot as Marlowe is hired to follow a wealthy playboy his client suspects is having an affair with his wife only to discover the playboy’s dead body and the apparent murderer (Veronica Mars‘s and General Hospital‘s Jaime Ray Newman) screaming her innocence. She then comes to Marlowe for help and the plot – of course – thickens, bringing in a supporting cast which includes Adam (not F) Goldberg and Amanda Righetti.

Marlowe, 2007-08

Developed by former Disney president Sean Bailey, the pilot was written by Greg Pruss and Carol Wolper, who had both been in and around “the business” without assembling much in the way of credits, although Pruss wrote a rejected draft for Alien3 and Wolper did uncredited script revisions for 1995’s Bad Boys. Where their script – and Rob Bowman’s direction – misses in making the city of Los Angeles as much a star of the story as Marlowe.

ABC declined to take the show to series, but ABC retained the rights to the property and went back to the Chandler well six years later, hiring Castle creator Andrew Marlowe (no relation) to write and produce a pilot that didn’t come to fruition.

Babylon Fields (CBS): John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Låt den Rätte Komma in (known better to you, I, and all non-Swedish speaking peoples as Let the Right One In) became a sensation on publication in 2004, was turned into a film in 2008, and given the Hollywood treatment two years later as Let Me In. After a vampire story, his follow-up novel turned to zombies, presenting an entirely different take on the concept in Handling the Undead, published in Sweden in 2005. Handling the Undead revolved around the unexpected resurrection of thousands of the recently deceased who, instead of feasting on brains, attempt to get back to their ordinary lives.

Babylon Fields was the brainchild of Michael Atkinson, a film critic for The Village Voice, and Gerald Cuesta, brother of Six Feet Under and Dexter director Michael Cuesta, who also lends his talents to this pilot. Babylon Fields revolved around the unexpected resurrection of thousands of the recently deceased who, instead of feasting on brains, attempt to get back to their ordinary lives.

Babylon Fields, 2007-08

Now there are no truly original ideas in Hollywood, and certainly not by 2007, when just about every single angle had been picked over, but there was an amusing similarity between the two concepts that no doubt escaped the bigwigs at CBS (and probably everybody else outside Sweden, at least until they remake the 2024 film version of Lindqvist’s story in Hollywood in two years’ time). Besides, while Lindqvist was writing his book, Robin Campillo’s film Les Revenants was released in France, a movie that revolved around the unexpected resurrection of thousands of the recently deceased who, instead of feasting on brains, attempt to get back to their ordinary lives.

Regardless of its origins, it’s an interesting concept that attempts to give a human dimension to post-human life years before The Walking Dead came to TV with AMC. Ray Stevenson is decent as Carl Tiptree, a cop trying to hold his small town together in the wake of the returns, with support from Kathy Baker, David Patrick Kelly, and Amber Tamblyn, but CBS didn’t take the concept any further, allowing The Walking Dead to become the king of TV zombie shows (not that it’s a hotly contested title).

Next time on The Telephemera Years: TV for kids, some of whom were born in a year without a 1 at the front!

Check out our other Telephemera articles:

The Telephemera Years: pre-1965 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 1967 (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: 1970 (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: 1974 (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

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

The Telphemera Years: 1976 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 1978 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 1981 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 1983 (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: 1989 (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: 1998 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 1999 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

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

The Telephemera Years: 2002 (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: 2006 (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

The Telephemera Years: 2007 (part 1, 2)

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

The Telephemera Years: O Canada! (part 1, 2, 3, 4)

Titans of Telephemera: Irwin Allen

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

Titans of Telephemera: DIC (part 1, 2)

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

Titans of Telephemera: Kenneth Johnson

Titans of Telephemera: Sid & Marty Krofft

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

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

Titans of Telephemera: Ruby-Spears

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