July 22, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Deadline reported today that ABC Studios has signed Jesse Martin to a talent hold deal that, although it could end up with him being cast in a different ABCS project, is largely in place so he’ll be available for a redeveloped version of Marc Cherry’s HALLELUJAH pilot, for which Cherry is writing a new script.  That makes it one of the season’s select busted pilots that, like the plague victim in Monty Python & the Holy Grail, can protest “I’m not dead yet!” as they try to cart it off.

In its current incarnation, Hallelujah isn’t quite distinctive enough.  Cherry, of course, is the creator of Desperate Housewives, and even though this show is set in a small town rather than a suburb, it has a shiff of that series and a similar look (feature director Michael Apted directed the pilot, and although his credits include Bond and Narnia movies, along with HBO’s Rome, visually Hallelujah is very bland).  It even more resembles some recent ABC failures like Happy Town and Eastwick that tried to mix a traditional soap story–evil powerful family dominates a town, a few rebels plot against them–with the supernatural.  In the case of Hallelujah, this added ingredient is religion.
Hallelujah, Tennessee’s evil patriarch is Del Roman (Terry O’Quinn, the beloved John Locke of Lost, here very much in Man In Black mode).  He has a hot young wife (Arielle Kebbel) and he owns the distillery that used to belong to the Turner family–until that patriarch died under mysterious circumstances.  The remaining Turner family is headed by recovering alcoholic Rye (Donal Logue), whose marriage with Ruth (Frances O’Connor) is shadowed not only by that tragedy, but by an accident 2 years ago that caused brain damage to their young son.  Even as Rye tries to figure out how to unseat the ruthless Del, both the Romans and the Turners have nubile teen children who, the pilot makes clear, will soon be involved in a Montague/Capulet romance. 
Into all of this comes Jared (Martin), a drifter who has a prison record but also healing powers, and who makes it clear that he won’t tolerate those who do others wrong.  (In what may be a piece of in-joke casting, Del’s former housekeeper, now taking an honored place in his home, is played by Della Reese, former star of Touched By An Angel.)  Illicit romances and murders will litter the storyline, but the main conflict of the series would be Good (Jared and Rye) vs Evil (Del). 
Cherry is a thorough professional, and Hallelujah is well paced and absorbing enough, but there’s nothing particularly memorable going on.  None of the characters have any shading–they’re either wearing white hats or black hats–and since we know God is on Jared’s side, there’s not a lot of tension.  What does work in the pilot is the cast:  Martin, O’Quinn, Logue and O’Connor are all excellent–but ABC let the cast options lapse, and only Martin and O’Quinn are likely to be courted for a new version. 
It’ll be interesting to see how things develop with Hallelujah.  The network’s relationship with Cherry is an important one, but he’ll continue to do new development along with the additional Hallelujah script, and Martin would be a valuable piece of talent even if he’s ultimately cast into a different project.  Based on its original pilot, Hallelujah will need more than prayer to make its way onto ABC’s schedule.
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."