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THE TELEPHEMERA YEARS: O Canada! (part 3)

Written By:

Alan Boon
Beastmaster, 1999

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!

O Canada!

Although the odd European show occasionally slips through the net, a massive percentage of the shows featured in The Telephemera Years originate from North America, and almost exclusively from the USA. Canada, though, has a thriving film and TV industry – including providing locations and supporting cast members for many of those American shows – and even has its own range of TV channels, including CBC, CTV, Global, and Space. To celebrate those gems made north of the border – some of which enjoyed three- or four-season runs but little acclaim outside their native land – we’re giving over four weeks of this column to our Canucklehead friends.

Some of the shows produced in Canada that have enjoyed wider acclaim include telefantasy schlockbusters Lexx and Relic Hunter, while the beloved Due South also falls into this category. Viewers of children’s BBC in the 1980s will no doubt have fond memories of The Raccoons and Degrassi Junior High, while Kids in the Hall rewrote comedy in the early nineties with a decidedly surreal touch. But those are the shows you’ve heard of and probably watched… what about those that didn’t get much reach beyond the provinces and territories of the Great White North? This is the story of yet more riches from the land of the maple…

Twice in a Lifetime (1999, CTV): Imagine that It’s a Wonderful Life was a TV show, that Clarence was played by a smouldering hunk, and that George actually dies at the end. That’s pretty much the premise of Twice in a Lifetime, in which people who’ve reached the end of their lives get a chance to go back to a pivotal moment and change something they did. It will alter their life for better or worse (always for the better, it seems) but they will return to the afterlife knowing they did a good job for themselves in some other timeline.

The key to the show was Al Waxman. The former Cagney and Lacey star played Judge Othiel, the big man who judged whether people would get that second chance, sending them back with a guide – Gordie Brown in season one and Paul Popowich in season two – to assist them in their mission. Othiel and his assistants were the only recurring characters in the series, with a parade of guest stars lining up to take their chance at redemption, including Corbin Bernsen, Michael Cera, Patrick Duffy, and Stephanie Zimbalist in season one alone.

Twice in a Lifetime, 1999

Twice in a Lifetime was created by Steve Sohmer, a former journalist who’d moved into television in 1977, occupying key roles at CBS, NBC, and ABC, where he was involved in the launches of shows such as Dallas, The Dukes of Hazzard, Cheers, and The A-Team. The show launched on both CTV in Canada and on PAX TV – a family oriented drama channel launched by the founder of the Home Shopping Network – in the US.

Waxman’s health was not good during the recording of the series, and he had to be replaced for four episodes during the first season while he recovered from heart issues. Sadly, Waxman died during heart surgery in January 2001 but had managed to complete his scenes for the rest of the second season. Without him, the heart fell out of the show, and it was decided not to bring it back for a third season without him.

Beastmaster (1999, CTV): The Beast Master was a 1959 novel by Andre Norton, the first woman to become Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy for her life’s work in 1977. Norton’s novel told of a former Navajo solider who has a psychic connection to a group of genetically engineered animals, his story playing out over five books, the last of which was published after Norton’s death in 2006.

In 1982, Don Coscarelli – best known for his gruesome Phantasm series – took elements of Norton’s novel and created The Beastmaster, although Coscarelli’s version was shorn of its Earth-bound origins and set entirely in a fantasy world, to an extent that Norton asked for her name to be taken off the finished film. Marc Singer starred as Dar, the titular master of animals, fighting to free Aruk from the machinations of the high priest Maax (Rip Torn), with support from Tanya Roberts and John Amos.

Beastmaster, 1999

The Beastmaster became a big hit on the nascent VHS market and eventually spawned two sequels, both starring Singer. In 1999, Coote/Hayes Productions began production of a TV version, largely based on the 1982 movie but with enough of Norton’s original book that she didn’t object to her being credited as its inspiration. The story once again revolved around Dar, this time played by Australian actor Daniel Goddard and on a quest to find his lost love in a world riven by tribal conflict.

Debuting on CTV in September 1999, the series was also syndicated in the US, doing well enough in both markets (and more overseas) that it ran for three seasons, a total of sixty-six episodes. Filmed in Australia, Coote/Hayes also had The Lost World in production at the same time and the shows shared many of the same actors and writers, including early outings for Claudia Black, Emilie de Ravin, and Isla Fisher, while Singer appeared in season three as Dartanus, Dar’s spirit guide.

The Immortal (2000, syndication): After spending six years playing Reno Raines on Renegade, Lorenzo Lamas had firmly established himself as a syndicated TV action hero, even if his next outing – 1998’s Air America – only lasted for a single season. Hopes were high, then, for The Immortal, a curious mix of Shogun, Highlander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more, with Lamas in the title role.

His Raphael Cain had his origin in the sixteenth century where his wife was killed, and his daughter abducted by a band of demons. Learning the secrets of oriental magic, Samurai swordsmanship, and eternal life, Cain – accompanied by his faithful squire Goodwin (Steve Braun) – spends five centuries tracking down the villains who may still have his daughter held captive. Destroying demons along the way with a heady mix of martial-arts and slicey-dicey, Cain is now also aided by April Telek’s Dr Sarah Beckman, an expert in otherworldly anomalies.

The Immortal, 2000

The Immortal was based on a concept decised by Chuck Knozelman and Cary Solomon, two jobbing writers who would eventually find their way into the burgeoning Christian film market. Their treatment was bought by Poltergeist writer Michael Grais and his Peace Arch Entertainment group, the show was filmed in Canada and the UK, with a supporting cast of familiar faces from both countries, including former WWF superstar Bret Hart.

The similarities to Highlander did not go unnoticed and fans of that franchise – which had recently enjoyed a six-season syndicated run of its own – were vocal in their opposition to The Immortal. They needn’t have worried because The Immortal was cancelled after just a single season, with an early cancellation notice allowing the storyline to be wrapped up in the final episode (although, of course, they left room for future continuation). Lamas returned to the world that had born him, starring in soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, before moving into musical theatre and eventually leaving full-time acting behind, working as a helicopter pilot and offering tours of the Grand Canyon.

Mysterious Ways (2000, CTV): Created by Peter O’Fallon, a director with work on Party of Five and thirtysomething behind him, Mysterious Ways was essentially an X-Files that dealt exclusively with miraculous phenomena. Adrian Pasdar – later to appear in Heroes and Agents of SHIELD – starred as Declan Dunn, a professor of anthropology at the Northern University of Oregon, with a passion for the miraculous after surviving an avalanche that should have, by rights, led to his death.

Dunn is assisted in his investigations by his sceptical assistant Miranda (12 Monkeys’ Alisen Down) and equally unconvinced colleague Dr Peggy Fowler (Rae Dawn Chong), who offer rational (and often more incredulous) explanations for the things they encounter. Over the course of its two-season run, the show featured cases involving life after death, unbelievable luck, ghost children, the voice of God, and more, often leaving the viewer none the wiser.

Mysterious Ways, 2000

O’Fallon himself – who wanted to create a family-friendly sci-fi show that made its audience consider their place in the universe – wrote the pilot episode, with others including Eric Tuchman (The Handmaid’s Tale), Stargate SG-1’s Carl Binder, and the Hayes brothers chipping in. The show gained a cult following, with fans particularly drawn to its charismatic cast, although a familiar concept did not hurt.

A production of Vancouver studio Crescent Entertainment, the show aired on CTV in Canada and began airing on NBC in the US in July 2000 before being pulled for low ratings. PAX TV, a channel part-owned by the Peacock Network, took over in August 2000 and aired the show through it’s eventual end in May 2002.

Tracker (2001, Space): Daggon is an alien from the planet Cirron who lands on Earth in a field outside Chicago and takes on the identity of an underwear model named Cole. In truth, he is on a mission to recapture over two-hundred alien prisoners who escaped from the prison planet SAR-TOP as “life forces” and fled to Earth. They now inhabit human forms and only Daggon can bring them back to justice…

Starring British actor Adrian Paul, who made his name playing the immortal Duncan MacLeod on Highlander: The Series, Tracker was the brainchild of Gil Grant, a veteran scriptwriter who also created historical drama Covington Cross and the Tom Raider “inspired” Relic Hunter. Grant scripted the pilot episode, which laid out the show’s basic premise and introduced both Daggon and Geraint Wyn-Davies’s Zin, a former scientist who has martialled the six fugitive alien species into a criminal empire on Earth.

Tracker, 2001

Also starring Amy Price-Francis and Leanne Wilson, Tracker made much of Daggon’s unfamiliarity with Earth for comic effect, although his naivety kept any sort of meaningful relationship between him and Prince-Francis’s Mel from developing. This no doubt contributed to the show’s downfall, cancelled after just a single season, with a hurried finale completing Daggon’s mission.

Filmed in both Toronto and the UK, Tracker actually aired in syndication in the US six days before its Canadian debut on Space, and it enjoyed a short afterlife when the first and last episodes – with guest star WWF wrestler Chyna – were edited into a standalone movie entitled Alien Tracker. Whether it was intended to or not, it did nothing to bring Tracker back to terrestrial screens, with Grant moving on to work on 24 and the NCIS franchise.

Next on The Telephemera Years: One final batch of Canadian delights, including an improvised soap opera set on board a moving train. Honest!

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 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, 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)

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

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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