July 1, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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>See A Word About Busted Pilots

On paper, EXIT STRATEGY looked like one of the hot FOX pilots this past season, a high-profile (Ethan Hawke’s first TV project) espionage thriller in the vein of 24 that could inherit that show’s Monday night slot and its House lead-in.  It didn’t happen:  the network chose Terra Nova for Fall and Alcatraz for Spring as Monday night newcomers.  A viewing of the Exit Strategy pilot makes its shortcomings pretty evident, so there’s not much mystery as to why it was passed over.

The concept is basically a cross between the Wolf (Harvey Keitel) sequence in Pulp Fiction and Mission:  Impossible.  It seems there’s a super-secret group in the CIA (is there any other kind?) that springs into action whenever an Agency mission is falling apart somewhere in the world. Headed by Eric Shaw (Ethan Hawke), the group includes the usual experts at armaments, forged documents, vehicles and assassination (variously Tom Sizemore, Megan Dodds, Elyes Gabel and Lina Esco); they drop into whatever location needs their help, clean all evidence of the fiasco that preceded them (dead bodies included), and complete the mission.
As written by David Guggenheim, the show plays like an action-studded but extremely straightforward procedural, with little personality and no humor; its dour, colorless tone is much more like a CBS drama than a FOX show.  At the time, it was considered a coup for FOX to get Hawke committed to a TV show, but there’s a reason why Hawke has never been a bona fide movie star; although he’s a very skilled actor who can be excellent in the right role (Training Day, even the updated Michael Almereyda Hamlet), he’s not the go-to guy for adding charisma to a character who doesn’t have it on the page.  Even his character’s big secret turns out to be dull.  The only notable performance in the pilot is by Lily Rabe, guest-starring as the rescued agent of the week, and that’s not the way pilots are supposed to work.  Antoine Fuqua directed (he was also the director of Training Day), and while he makes good work of some of the action beats, the elaborate production design–the pilot takes place in China–mostly looks like a collection of sets, and he doesn’t bring any more out of the actors than was in the script.
Exit Strategy isn’t necessarily dead; Deadline has reported that the show is being redeveloped for a possible midseason pick-up, with experienced showrunner Ken Olin coming on board.  In order for it to work, the show needs not so much a personality transplant as some personality to begin with.  The pilot that exists lives up to its title all too well.
The Sked’s Verdict:  The Network Was Right
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."