June 16, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Disclaimer:  Network pilots now in circulation are not necessarily in the form that will air in the Fall.  Pilots are often reedited and rescored, and in some cases even recast or reshot.  So these critiques shouldn’t be taken as full TV pilot reviews, but rather as a guide to the general style and content of the new shows coming your way.

TERRA NOVA –  Monday 8PM on FOX:  Potential DVR Alert
This is–maybe–what a big fat hit looks like.  Maybe, because anything can happen between a pilot and its series, or even between episodes (remember when Heroes came back for Season 2 and suddenly it was terrible?)– especially, as here, where only the first hour of the 2-hour pilot exists, and even that hour has some temp special effects.  So TERRA NOVA is far from a sure thing.  But it sure has the makings of a show that could hit the mass TV audience right in its sweet spot.

What if Jurassic Park were a housing development?  That’s essentially the basis for Terra Nova, although actually the two concepts take place in completely different earthly time frames:  Jurassic imagined the contemporary reanimation of dinosaurs, while in Terra Nova, people of a dystopian future are transported back millions of years to live in the era when dinos were native.  But both projects take place in and around similar-looking complexes built to keep the carnosaurs out, and both, not coincidentally, have Steven Spielberg as wizard in charge.

In classic Spielberg style, the drama rotates around a troubled family:  dad Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) was a futuristic Chicago cop whose marriage to scientist Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) was in danger of falling apart when the two of them decided to have a third child, an action forbidden by law; Jim ended up in jail.  But when Elisabeth is recruited with their 2 legal teens (Landon Liboiron and Naomi Scott) for the Terra Nova time-travel project, Jim breaks out of prison to take their youngest (Alana Mansour) with them.  Beyond the dinosaurs and other local threats, the Shannons will continue to have their interpersonal strains.

The script (lots of people worked on it, including Rene Echevarria, Allan Loeb, Brannon Braga, Craig Silverstein and Kelly Marcel–it’s not clear yet just who’s getting screen credit) isn’t smarter than your average Hollywood blockbuster-it’s not Game of Thrones, and it’s not Battlestar Galactica–but it’s cunningly constructed to allow for plenty of potential storylines.  Despite his criminal record, Jim quickly proves his worth to the leader of the community, Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang), and joins his security service; soon Jim discovers there are other settlers from the future trying to sabotage the project.  Meanwhile, there’s the Shannons’ shaky marriage, their kids’ budding romances, giant man-eating beasts, and where did those strange designs outside the Terra Nova walls come from?

Alex Graves, whose credits include the pilot for Fringe, serves as director, and even with temp effects, Terra Nova has the scale and energy of a feature film, with gorgeous cinematography and a huge production design.  (Just what will happen when the show has to deal with inevitably smaller episodic budgets is unclear.)  The cast is capable, with the early standout being Lang, who does a less blatantly evil version of his Avatar role (it won’t be much of a surprise if his character turns out to be less than a good guy here, too).  For now, the Shannon family is basically photogenic and personable; there’s so much going on in the pilot that we only get a superficial handle on them.

FOX could have paired Terra Nova with their new X-Factor for a superpowered launch, but they have so much confidence in the show that they’re letting it kick off their Monday nights as the lead-in to House.  The gamble may pay off; the show has potential to be an “all quadrants” smash, appealing to families, men and women, young and old.  (Mitch Metcalf’s Monday projection has it behind ABC’s Dancing With the Stars and the How I Met Your Mother/2 Broke Girls combo on CBS, but the show will certainly be hyped by FOX into a major premiere event, and it could be a breakout hit.)   The dinosaur-sized question now is whether they can successfully translate their strong hour into a successful series.

Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."