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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 2002, part 1

Written By:

Alan Boon
The Twilight Zone, 2002

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!

2002-03

If you can take anything away from a glance at the top rating shows from the year’s Fall TV season in the US, it’s that America loved crime that year. And football, of course, along with reality shows and the ever-present “Must See TV” Thursday night NBC juggernaut of Friends, Scrubs, Will & Grace, Frasier, and ER. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ruled the roost, drawing almost 20% more viewers than second-place Friends, while CSI: Miami, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Without a Trace all taking minor places.

It was a rough year for genre TV, with Touched by an Angel, Futurama, Farscape, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all airing their final seasons, but surely Joss Whedon’s new show Firefly would more than make up for those losses and enjoy a long run? The wonderful Oz finished its run on HBO and was replaced by a little show named The Wire, but what of those shows that didn’t make such a lasting impact on the collective imagination of the American people? This is the story of four near- (and not so near-) misses from 2002…

Push, Nevada (ABC): There have been plenty of mystery shows that have invited the viewer to play along with the detectives and try to guess the guilty party, so much so that it’s an unwritten rule of the genre and shows that eschew it tend not to last too long. What’s rare, though, is a show that invites the viewer to solve to mystery before the detectives, prove it, and win a million dollars for doing so.

That was the unusual premise behind Push, Nevada, a show created by Ben Affleck and Sean Bailey, who Affleck had worked with on Project Greenlight. The show starred Jim Prufrock as an IRS agent dispatched to the fictional town of Push, Nevada, to investigate an accounting error made by the local casino. Beginning his investigation, he realises there is something sinister going on in Push and, ignoring warnings to leave, begins to delve deeper into the shadowy Watermark corporation.

Push Nevada, 2002

Each episode would plant several clues for viewers to decode, with a dedicated phone number set up for watching sleuths to stake their claim. If all went according to plan, the final clue would be revealed during the thirteenth and final episode, broadcast on December 5th 2002. Of course, all did not go according to plan and low ratings caused the network to pull the plug after just seven episodes had aired.

Federal regulations, however, meant that the competition had to reach its conclusion and so, four days after the seventh episode had aired, the remaining six clues were revealed during Monday Night Football, which must have made for strange viewing for regular gridiron fans. The prize was eventually won by New Jersey resident Mark Nakamoto, who called just two minutes after the final clue had been revealed, collecting $1,045,000 for his efforts. The remaining six episodes have never aired but you can see the first seven on YouTube if you want to play along…

The Pitts (Fox): Mike Scully and Julie Thacker met on The Simpsons, where Scully was showrunner from 1997 and Thacker a producer. They married in 1999 and started working together on a series of pitches for potential Fox shows, with The Pitts earning a seven-episode order as a Spring replacement in April 2003. The pitch was that The Pitts were an ordinary American sitcom family who suffer from incredibly bad luck, explored through a series of fantastical plots that would be treated no differently to your average sitcom scenario.

So, when daughter Faith loses her chance to star in a rock music video it is not because she has a huge zit, it is because a metal pipe gets stuck in her head. And when Bob hires a babysitter for the kids and it turns out she happens to be an ex-girlfriend, it is less an uncomfortable reunion and more that he stood her up on prom night and she has dedicated her life to revenge.

The Pitts, 2003

Dylan Baker, probably best known either for his film debut in Plains, Trains and Automobiles (or as the tortured paedophile in Todd Solondz’s Happiness), played dad Bob, with Six Feet Under’s Kellie Waymire as wife Liz, and Freaks and Geeks’ Lizzy Caplan and newcomer David Henrie completing the nuclear family. Although the pilot did decent ratings for a Fox show of the time, figures for subsequent episodes fell off quite steeply and the network pulled the plug after just five episodes had aired, leaving two unshown. They were later shown when The Pitts aired in the UK and all seven episodes can be seen on YouTube.

In 2007, it was announced that Fox were looking to bring The Pitts back as an animated show, with Baker and Caplan agreeing to reprise their roles and voice their characters. Sadly, Waymire had died in November 2003 at the age of thirty-six from a heart attack, so Julie Penney was cast as her replacement, and Andy Milonakis stepped in for Henrie, who was starring in Wizards of Waverly Place. Unfortunately, the pilot failed to impress Fox bosses and the plug was pulled on the project in July 2008.

The Twilight Zone (UPN): The original series of The Twilight Zone ran from 1959 to 1964 and practically gave birth to science-fiction and horror television as we know it. So influential was Rod Serling’s show – and so lucrative were the re-runs in syndication – that it wasn’t until 1983’s movie adaptation that any attempt to re-do the show was made. Although the making of that film was beset by disaster, the box office take led to a TV revival, with CBS airing three seasons of stories between 1985 and 1989.

Nothing ever goes away in television, of course, and by 2002 it was time to try again and, this being the early 2000s, the dial was turned up to extreme with a theme tune provided by Jonathan Davis of nu-metallers Korn, and subjects tackled including terrorism, sexuality, and racism, the latter of which had, of course, been expertly tackled in the original series’ The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and other episodes. Introducing each episode in place of Serling was Forest Whitaker, with the cast including the likes of Jake Busey, Brian Austin Green, Shannon Elizabeth, Patrick Warburton, and Usher.

The Twilight Zone, 2002

The show premiered on UPN on September 18th 2002, with an episode directed by Star Trek veteran Allan Kroeker, and the first few episodes saw Jason Alexander as a suicidal Death, Katherine Heigl travel back to 1889 Austria to assassinate baby Hitler, and Portia di Rossi as a woman who finds she can see through the eyes of her husband’s murderer. Probably the most eagerly anticipated episode was February 19th’s “It’s Still a Good Life,” which saw Bill Mumy reprise his role from 1961’s “It’s a Good Life” as a man with terrible powers who discovers his daughter might be even worse.

Unusually for the time, the first season consisted of forty-three episodes, lasting through May 2003, but reception of the update was mixed, with critics and viewers alike less than enthused, although fans of the original found a lot to like. UPN opted not to renew the show for a second season and New Line released the complete series on DVD in September 2004. The Twilight Zone would return for a fourth incarnation in 2019 from horror auteur Jordan Peele and although it lasted for two seasons, the total episode count was the lowest yet, at just twenty.

Miracles (ABC): When the NFL season ends in January, it’s not just dedicated fans who find there’s a gap in their lives, it’s also TV schedulers, rushing to fill a slot that had been a guaranteed ratings banker for the last four months. In 2003, the job of replacing ABC’s Monday Night Football fell in part to Miracles, pitched as “a spiritual version of The X-Files” by creators Richard Hatem and Michael Petroni.

Hatem, who had scripted The Mothman Prophecies the year before, was sent the script to look at by Spyglass Entertainment (the people behind The Sixth Sense), and mistakenly thought he was being asked to rewrite it, which he did. The new script, which combined Petroni’s original ideas with Hatem’s polish, was further developed by Hatem and Spyglass’s Suzanne Patmore and Megan Wolpert, heavily influenced by the true story of Herbert Thurston, a clergyman who investigated spiritualism during the 1920s and 1930s.

Miracles, 2002

Skeet Ulrich was cast as Paul Callan, a former inestigator for the Catholic church who resigned after the church dismissed his report on a genuine faith healer (who healed Callan’s own life-threatening injuries). Now working for secretive organisation Sodalitas Quaerito, Callan teams up with the agency’s founder Alva Keel (Angus McFayden) and former police officer Evelyn Santos – played by General Hospital regular Marisa Ramirez – to investigate strange religious occurrences and solve an overarching mystery of which he may be a very big part of himself.

After debuting in a splash of publicity, the series was often pre-empted by reports on the Iraq War and patchy ratings led ABC to cancel the show when just six episodes had aired. A fan campaign led to the final seven episodes being aired in November and December 2003 but the network were unwilling to greenlight a second season and no other channel seemed interested in picking the show up. The full series was released on DVD in April 2005 but there never was any kind of resolution to the show’s big storyline, although Hatem did have outlines for future episodes.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: More flops from 2002, including Harley Quinn’s pals, the Birds of Prey!

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: 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 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: 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: 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: 2006 (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: 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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