September 2, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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We round out our survey of some of the more notable busted pilots of the season with the distinctive POE, produced by Warner Bros Television for ABC and written by Chris Hollier (a former writer for Kyle XY).  Unfortunately, this pilot stands for the proposition that “distinctive” doesn’t necessarily equal “good.”  
Poe’s distinctiveness, for one thing, is decidedly second-hand.  It’s clearly inspired by the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movies, with a 19th Century literary figure being reconfigured as an anachronistic action hero.  Here, of course, the unlikely hero is an author rather than a fictional character:  Edgar Allan Poe (played by Chris Egan, who was the male lead in Letters to Juliet and a star of NBC’s flop Kings).  We find him living in 1840 Boston as a dashing newspaper reporter (according to the always-reliable Wikipedia, in fact he was living in Philadelphia at the time, writing for literary journals and married to the 18-year old he had wed 5 years earlier, when she was only 13–but no matter). Just so we’ll know this really is that Poe, the pilot includes a cask of Amontillado, a woman named Ligeia, and of course a raven.  (There’s also a morgue, albeit not noticeably rue.)

The show’s Poe is a true believer in the supernatural who solves seemingly impossible crimes for the police on the side, with a sidekick in the gorgeous Celeste (Natalie Dormer, The Tudors‘ Anne Boleyn), another reporter who’s not-so-secretly in love with Edgar and who believes there’s a rational explanation for any bizarre phenomenon.  (Mulder, meet Scully.)  They also have an African-American MD (Leslie Odom, Jr) to consult with them, and the inevitable authority figure (Kevin McNally) who sputters at Poe’s reckless investigations but has to respect his results. 
The pilot never finds a viable tone.  It’s even more anachronistic than the Downey Holmes (in a dance sequence, we watch the couples waltz while the soundtrack plays contemporary pop music), and Egan’s performance seems to be a riff on John Barrowman’s Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood; aside from whether Egan is in Barrowman’s league (he’s not), Captain Jack is very specifically a man living outside of time, which is why the original performance makes sense.  Poe, supposedly an actual person living in 1840, just sounds silly as he bounds around in period costume, but acts like he’s just back from lunch in Brentwood.
The show doesn’t have much to recommend it on any other level, either.  The pilot’s plot is complicated without being satisfying (women seemingly possessed by demons are actually being drugged by the villain so they’ll commit murders for him), and when the show has Poe giving little attention to Celeste in order to moon after ex-fiance Sarah (Tabrett Bethell), it seems to be asking us to question his intelligence.  (Although I guess this Poe shows better judgment than the real one, staying away from 13-year-olds and all.)  Director Alex Graves tries, despite what must have been a limited budget, to give the show a polished look, but it still feels pretty cheap.  

Poe‘s spin on a supernatural procedural, while different, can’t find its way to being fun or compelling.  Like most–although not all–of its busted pilot brethren, the show that emerged from development was nevermore worth putting on the air. 

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."