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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: 2006 – PART 2

Written By:

Alan Boon
Jericho, 2006

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!

2006-07

If you wanted to be an American Idol or go Dancing with the Stars, the top of the TV ratings for the 2006-07 season made pretty good reading, with the top five slots filled by these newfangled variety showcases. Underneath, crime and medical dramas thrived, but there was slightly more quirky available from Lost and new arrivals Heroes and Ugly Betty.

That wasn’t all as 2006 was FULL of new hits, whether it was The WB’s One Tree Hill, Smallville, and Supernatural, serial killer fun on Showcase with Dexter, or 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights on NBC. That slightly made up for the losses of The OC, Gilmore Girls, The Sopranos, Stargate SG-1, and Masters of Horror, all of which were taking their final laps this year. Those, of course, are the shows that managed to secure an audience but there were plenty that didn’t; this is the story of more transient TV…

Masters of Science Fiction (ABC): In 2002, Critters 2: The Main Course director Mick Garris invited some friends to an informal dinner in Sherman Oaks, California, that ultimately led to the formation of the Masters of Horror. Comprising John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Don Coscarelli, Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, John Landis, Bill Malone, and Garris himself, the original group led to further dinners involving the likes of Dario Argento, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Lloyd Kaufman, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino, giving Garris a huge cast to call upon when he pitched Masters of Horror as an anthology series to Showtime in 2005.

Masters of Horror was a huge success and production company Reunion Pictures managed to sell ABC on a sci-fi version, although they did not have access to Garris’s contact book and thus episodes were directed by Jonathan Frakes, On Golden Pond’s Mark Rydell, TV regular Darnell Martin, and Harold “Vision Quest” Becker, as well as Michal Tokin, nominated for an Oscar for writing The Player.

Masters of Science Fiction, 2007

What Masters of Science Fiction did have was access to stories based on some of the genre’s heavyweights, including Howard Fast, Robert A Heinlein, and the irascible Harlan Ellison, as well as an off-screen introduction to each episode by Stephen Hawking. The show was planned for the 2006 Fall season, but when the line-ups were released, there was no sign of the show amid rumours that ABC president Stephen McPherson had found it too highbrow for its intended audience.

The first episode eventually debuted on August 4th 2007 in a late Summer slot previously occupied by re-runs of America’s Funniest Home Videos, with subsequent episodes airing over the next three weeks. Episodes four and five of the six-episode series did not air, with the network offering no explanation, although all six were screened by Space in Canada. McPherson justified his decision by claiming the show was “very uneven” and “a little problematic,” although his judgment may be called into question by his departure from the network under a cloud of sexual harassment in 2010.

Jericho (CBS): In 2007, Jericho ranked number eleven on TV Guide’s Top Cult Shows Ever list, something that no true piece of telephemera should achieve, right? Except that at the time of that ranking, Jericho had just been cancelled and a massive fan campaign was underway to bring it back. Ultimately successful, the show was cancelled again just seven episodes into its second season, with no amount of fan furore able to bring it back this time.

Jericho was created by The Perks of Being a Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky, who was partnered with first time scriptwriters Josh Schaer and Jonathan E Steinberg when his agent suggested he move into TV. The story of the fictional town of Jericho, Kansas, and how its inhabitants scratch out a life in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, Jericho centred around Jake Green (Skeet Ulrich), a prodigal son returning to claim his inheritance in the ashes of his old hometown. The show premiered on September 20th 2006, occupying a slot on Wednesday nights on CBS that was also home to Criminal Minds and CSI:NY. Ratings for the first episode were positive and held up well through November 29th, when the show was put on hiatus for three months.

On its return, millions of viewers had found something else to do but producers were still confident they’d done enough to earn a second season. CBS disagreed, cancelling the show in May 2007, which is where the fans came in. Several fan groups combined their efforts to let the network know that they wanted their show back, ultimately sending twenty tons of peanuts – a reference to a throwaway line in the show – and thousands of e-mails to CBS, who responded by agreeing to bring the show back to finish the story. Returning in February 2008, this time on Tuesdays after Big Brother, ratings took another dive and t was announced that the series finale would air on March 25th 2008. The prospect must have been in the offing as two endings were filmed for that episode, one would which continue the series and one which would end it.

Fans renewed their efforts to bring the show back once more, but this time to no avail. Seasons three and four would eventually be released as comic books by Devil’s Due and IDW in 2009 and 2012, ending on a cliffhanger that, to this date, remains unresolved.

The Knights of Prosperity (ABC): Initially titled Let’s Rob Jeff Goldbum, the central conceit of Knights of Prosperity is that a group of thieves – the eponymous Knights – steal from celebrities. It’s a slight concept but one that allows for multiple celebrity guests to bump ratings, although the project hit a snag when Goldblum signed on with rival network NBC to make the drama Raines. With Mick Jagger in his place, and further title changes through Let’s Rob Mick Jagger and Let’s Rob… to its eventual moniker, the show was scheduled to premiere on October 17th 2006, with Dancing with the Stars as its equally star-studded lead-in on Tuesday nights.

Produced by David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Incorporated, the Jagger heist took up the first eight episodes, with talk show host Kelly Ripa briefly the object of their attention before they settled on Ray Romano for their second sting. The Knights were led by Eugene Gurkin (Grounded for Life dad Donal Logue), who wants money to open a bar and assembles a six-person squad that includes Sofía Vergara, Kevin Michael Richardson, and Lenny Venito.

The Knights of Prosperity, 2007

The show was created by Josh Beckerman and Rob Burnett, fresh off a four-season run helming Ed for NBC, and hopes were high that this could be at least as successful as that show. However, two weeks before its debut, ABC announced that it would not be airing as planned, with a double episode of Dancing… in its place. Shelved in favour of concentrating their efforts on wedding sitcom Big Day, the show eventually debuted on January 3rd 2007, a mid-season replacement on Wednesday nights for time loop cop show Day Break.

The Jagger episodes – and that one-off flirtation with Ripa – aired through March but ratings were never what the network wanted, and a decision was made to pause production and go on hiatus, with the Romano episodes held over for a second season. However, it was quietly cancelled in the Summer and two of the four completed episodes of the second heist aired in August, with the other two put on the NBC website. As of writing, they still haven’t robbed Ray Romano.

The Dresden Files (Sci-Fi): Based on the popular series of urban fantasy books by Jim Butcher, The Dresden Files starred English actor Paul Blackthorne as Harry Dresden, a wizard who helps Chicago police with cases that have supernatural undertones. Butcher created Dresden when he enrolled in a writing class and was given an assignment to write a story along the lines of Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter books, eventually selling the series to ROC publishing through Hamilton’s agent.

Five years after Storm Front – the first book in the series – was released, The Sci-Fi Channel optioned Butcher’s series for a two-hour TV movie, to be used as a pilot for an eventual series. Nicolas Cage came on board as executive producer and the pilot was adapted from Storm Front by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine veterans Hans Beimler and Robert Hewitt Wolfe. It was intended to air the pilot in the Summer of 2006, but a full series was greenlighted before it aired, and subsequent delays in the production process – including editing it down to an hour – resulted it in airing it in March 2007, as the show’s eighth episode.

The Dresden Files, 2007

“Birds of a Feather” – the show’s third episode – instead became the series premiere, debuting on January 21st 2007 in a weekly slot on Sunday nights. Blackthorne was joined in the regular cast by Valerie Cruz as Lieutenant Connie Murphy, a Chicago police officer who calls on Harry’s services, and by Terrance Mann as the voice of Bob, a thousand-year-old spirit who was sealed in his own skull when he died and helps Harry with supernatural research.

Ratings hit a high with episode two and were encouraging, if not spectacular, but it was with some disappointment that it was announced that there would be no second season, and fans led efforts to try and reverse Sci-Fi’s decision to no avail. However, Harry continues to appear in books written by Butcher – the seventeenth, Battle Ground, was released in September 2020 – and it wouldn’t need too much in the way of magical divination to see another TV adaptation coming along…

Day Break (ABC): Framed for the murder of Assistant District Attorney Albert Garza, Los Angeles police detective Brett Hopper (Taye Diggs) is caught in a time loop, repeating the fateful day over and over. Retaining his memories (and any injuries) from previous runs through, Hopper unveils a conspiracy against him and discovers that at least one other person might be looping with him…

Created by Paul Zbyszewski, a former Weakest Link link writer who had scripted heist drama After the Sunset in 2004, Day Break inherited the Wednesday slot vacated by Lost when it went on a mid-season hiatus during its third season, and it was hoped that a similar “mystery box” show would find success with that crowd.

Day Break, 2006

The first episode retained sixty percent of the viewers Lost was doing in that slot, but ratings halved in week two and further declined over the next few weeks, with a decision made to pull the show after just six episodes had aired. The remaining seven episodes were made available on ABC.com from January 2007, allowing the storyline to play out. The final few episodes were delayed, officially because of music rights for online screening, but it also meant that they were able to bring the series to a close, with new scenes possibly shot for that purpose.

Threads were left dangling for a second season, but Brett Hooper’s story was done. Diggs, who also acted as producer, remains proud of the show and it might just be a case of it being too early to find its audience, its non-linear story perfectly suited to the streaming era. Regardless, the show is available on DVD and can also be found on YouTube for those seeking a conspiratorial alternative to Groundhog Day.

Next time on The Telephemera Years: a screw-on head and a water-breathing fish lover are among four projects from 2006 that didn’t make it to air…

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: 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: 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: 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)

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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