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Written By:

Alan Boon
Birds of Prey, 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!


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 more shows from 2002 that fell before their time…

Veritas: The Quest (ABC): Imagine if Indiana Jones was cool… That’s the pitch behind Veritas: The Quest, the story of a disaffected teen played by Halloween: Resurrection’s Ryan Merriman. Nikko Zond discovers that ever since his mother disappeared, his archaeologist father is working for an agency known as Veritas, searching for the truth behind the world’s greatest mysteries.

Although he initially tries to leave well alone, Nikko gets increasingly drawn into his father’s world of ark raids, doom temples, and last crusades, almost as if his destiny was being controlled by some kind of… dial? It wasn’t all one-way traffic from inspiration to execution, however; six years before Indiana Jones 4, in episode three, Nikko is guided by a man only he can see to find the location of a crystal skull, only to discover that a reconstruction of the face the skull belonged to reveals his mystery guide.

Veritas: The Quest, 2002

Veritas: The Quest was created by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, who had written the screenplay for 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and – yes – the show wore its influences proudly on its sleeve, throwing in a dose of Croft and The Mummy to boot, but it was a fun and pacy affair. It helped that its mostly Canadian crew included a decent cast headed by Alex Carter, with Cobie Smulders in her first regular role.

Introduced by ABC on Monday nights in January 2003 as the latest in a string of shows that occupied that slot, the network never seemed completely happy with the show, failing to give it much of a boost with advertising during its most popular shows. The first episode drew over nine million viewers against King of Queens and Fear Factor, but that had fallen to just five-and-a-half million by episode seven and the decision was made to cancel the show, removing it from the schedules after episode nine had aired, the remaining four completed episodes airing in June 2003.

John Doe (Fox): I’d expect that waking up naked on an island of the coast of Seattle could be disorienting at the best of times but in John Doe, one of Fox’s bright new hopes for the 2002 Fall TV season, Dominic Purcell’s eponymous protagonist also has to deal with having absolutely no idea who he is or how he got there. What he does seem to know is EVERYTHING ELSE, as in the sum total of human knowledge.

Doe uses his newfound skills to help the Seattle police solve crimes, all the while searching for clues as to who he really is, and what the mysterious scar on his chest might mean. Watching his every move is a shadowy body known as the Phoenix Organization, who seem to think that Doe is very important to the future of the world.

John Doe, 2002

The show earned positive reviews when it debuted, with many critics and fans especially praising both Purcell’s performance and the quality of the scripts, most of which were written by creators Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson. The pair were new to writing, having sold their first script just a year before – the Kevin Costner near-death experience yarn Dragonfly.

The pilot drew almost ten million viewers, but figures had almost halved by the final episode, which ended with a doozy of a cliffhanger. The ratings decline meant Fox declined to renew the show for a second season, leaving not only that cliffhanger but the question of Doe’s identity unresolved, although Camp and Thompson did later reveal the broad strokes to Entertainment Weekly magazine (hint: it involved a near-death experience, this time without Kevin Costner).

Haunted (UPN): Two years before Matthew Fox found himself stranded on a mysterious island with a polar bear, a smoke creature, and Evangeline Lilly, he was being Haunted. Fox played Frank Taylor, a former police officer whose life – and marriage – was torn apart by his son’s abduction. Becoming a private investigator specialising in cases involving missing children, Taylor is almost killed in a car crash while chasing a suspect but finds afterwards that he can communicate with the dead.

Frank’s new gift comes with a curse – the visions he receives from the spirits are often confusing and frightening – but he realises that they’re all designed to lead him to where he needs to be to get his job done. That’s if the malevolent dead – including the man he was chasing before his accident – don’t succeed in leading him astray…

Haunted, 2002

It’s an intriguing concept but it failed to find an audience, despite a promising start. Those who did watch it, though, loved it, praising the depth of Fox’s performance and the rich tableau painted by cinematographer Gordon Lonsdale. That wasn’t enough to save Haunted from the axe, however, and UPN pulled the plug after just seven episodes had aired, replacing it in the schedule with re-runs of the sitcom Girlfriends.

Co-creator Andrew Cosby later co-created quirky soap A Town Called Eureka for Sci-Fi in 2006, and that channel began showing Haunted a year later, finally screening the last four episodes which had sat unviewed for five years. A DVD of the complete series was released in 2010, with a Blu Ray following in 2018 from Kino Lorber, finally allowing fans to enjoy their favourite lost show in all its glory.

Birds of Prey (The WB): With Batman largely the province of the silver screen, DC’s television efforts often have to get round the thorny problem of there not being a Batman in Gotham if they want to tell stories involving its other denizens. They sometimes set the shows before Bruce Wayne became Batman, as in the case of Gotham, but more often they go for a scenario where Batman is no longer around to fight crime, usually as the result of some mysterious disappearance (although 2022’s Gotham Knights went one better and killed him off the first episode). Birds of Prey took the latter path, opening in New Gotham City several years after Batman has apparently abandoned his watch.

In his stead, Oracle – Barbara Gordon, daughter of the erstwhile Commissioner –ensures the city’s safety, controlling things from a secret location in the New Gotham Watchtower. Barbara (Starship Troopers’ Dina Meyer) had previously fought crime alongside Batman as Batgirl but, in a storyline lifted from the comics, she had been paralysed by The Joker, leaving her physically unable to fight.

Birds of Prey, 2002

She recruits the Ashley Scott’s metahuman Huntress (the daughter of Batman and Catwoman) and Black Canary (Rachel Skarsten), also a metahuman but with the ability to emit a piercing cry. Together they work with Detective Jesse Reese of GCPD to fight such superhuman threats as Slick, Darkstrike, Clayface, and a certain Dr Harleen Quinzell (played by Mia Sara, although Sherilyn Fenn took the role in the unaired pilot).

Owing to the insertion of footage of Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer in the opening credits, the show was assumed to share a continuity with the Tim Burton Batman movies and the series got off to a strong start on Wednesday nights, finding a youthful audience despite strong competition from The Bachelor and The West Wing. However, in a story that should be familiar if you’ve read this far, ratings steeply declined and the decision was made to cancel the show, it’s thirteenth and final episode watched by only forty percent of the audience the opener achieved. It did have a brief life after its demise, however, when the “Arrowverse” crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths featured Scott reprising her Huntress role on the designated Earth-203, shortly before it was destroyed.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: 2002’s unsold pilots, including monster smashers, young knights, and geeks!

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: 2002 (part 1)

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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