Is genre television an endangered species? Terra Nova's canceled, and some other network science fiction shows are reportedly on the firing line. So it might seem like next fall will be a wasteland — but don't fear. Besides NBC's Beautiful People, which we told you about a while back, there several other science fiction and fantasy pilots in the pipeline.
We got hold of a ton of script pages from six upcoming network pilots that are going into production — plus one that's been put on hold. And here's what we learned. Spoilers ahead...
Top image: "Beauty and the Beast" tribute photographed by Annie Leibovitz, with Drew Barrymore.
First, a bit of a disclaimer — the script pages we read were released for casting purposes. They may not represent the shooting scripts that are being used on these pilots. We also didn't get the complete scripts in most cases. And even if these are the shooting scripts, there may be rewrites and reshoots before you get to see these pilots. On the other hand, we feel like we have a pretty good idea of what these shows are going to be about, on a basic level. Finally, we'll try to avoid massive spoilers here, and just give the basics of each show's setup and characters. With all that out of the way, here goes!
Untitled Roland Emmerich Project (ABC)
In a nutshell: Carter (Max Thierot) is an astrophysicist whose estranged father dies while trying to assassinate a U.S. senator who's probably our next President. And then Carter finds out that he's the only person on Earth who can stop the rise of the Antichrist. He meets a secret Council, led by Mr. Arnim (Space: 1999's Martin Landau), who have a copy of the Devil's Bible (or Codex Gigas.) And Carter discovers that his father led a double life, including a secret apartment that's full of religious artifacts and conspiracy crap, and his dad may have lied about what happened to his mom. But sinister federal agents are harassing Carter, because of his dad's attempted assassination. Meanwhile, Carter's rugby coach is mad that he's giving up rugby, in a subplot that will probably dropped pretty fast.
Memorable characters: The Council has a lot of interesting people on it, including Mr. Arnim himself. The Council also includes Mrs. Ruth, a cat lady whose cats eat off fine china. And Gaston, a henchman who moonlights as a performer in a New York S&M nightclub, where he wears a dog mask and whips strippers on stage. They all sit around and talk about the rise of the third Antichrist — and show off proof that Hitler was the second Antichrist. But the most compelling character is probably the villain, Senator Teras, who's folksy and cute and full of lovable sayings... and totally evil.
Why it could be your new crack: It's a 24-style conspiracy show, only with Satan. And the main character is an astrophysicist who can see when people are secretly demonically possessed. There is tons of Emmerich-style crackpot conspiracy stuff. And there's also a love triangle — Carter is apparently torn between his girlfriend Wynter-Lee, a hot cellist, and the tomboyish Amy, who's part of the Council. Oh, and Carter's "posh" ex-girlfriend Sally is also in the picture. Most of all, it's fun — at one point, a kid kicks a skateboard over to Carter and says he's called — "to stop the Antichrist, dumbass."
Last Resort (ABC)
In a nutshell: A nuclear submarine is equipped with a brand new prototype that allows it to move undetected, without any kind of magnetic signature — a kind of "cloaking device," if you will. But when the sub receives orders to fire its missiles at Pakistan through non-standard channels, its captain decides to disobey. Soon, the sub's crew is divided and its captain's authority in question, while World War III is breaking out back on land. The submarine hides out at a small island called Sainte Maria, whose local dicator, "Mayor" Julian Serrat, doesn't appreciate these new arrivals trying to take over his island. It stars Terminator 2's Robert Patrick, plus Scott Speedman, Dichen Lachman, Andre Braugher and Autumn Reeser.
Memorable characters: The "Mayor" is pretty funny, and meanwhile the submarine's captain and XO, Marcus and Sam, are both entertaining tough guys who arrive at the decision to disobey a direct order through a lot of soul-searching and grit. But a lot of the most memorable characters are the women, including a sassy lobbyist named Kylie who's responsible for the new stealth technology being tested on board the sub. And Pilar Cortez, a tough Naval officer who's the spitting image of Lt. Vasquez from Aliens. Plus Franka, a staffer at the NATO listening post on the island, who likes to party hard.
Why it could be your new crack: Does a Battlestar Galactica-style gritty apocalyptic series from the creator of The Shield sound fun? Then this could be your new crack. There also seem to be lots of layers to the conspiracy, so there's plenty of stuff to peel back over the weeks and months of the first season. Robert Patrick image via Getty Images.
Midnight Sun (NBC)
In a nutshell: Is this show science fiction or fantasy? Really hard to say, even after reading a lot of the pilot. It's about a cult of environmentalist hippies living in Alaska — and then the entire cult disappears, all 37 members including a lot of local residents. FBI cult specialist Leah Kafka (Julia Stiles) comes to town to investigate, and winds up butting heads with the local authorities, who have their own way of doing things. There's much debate over whether the group, Midnight Sun, is really a cult or just a commune. But there are loads of hints that Midnight Sun leader Bennett Maxwell was experimenting with strange stuff, to unlock the hidden power of the human mind. It's based on an Israeli series, Pillars of Smoke.
Memorable characters: Well, Bennett Maxwell, for one — he's your standard charismatic cult leader, described as George Clooney mixed with Kevin Spacey. There's also a group of teenagers, one of whom gets mixed up with Midnight Sun and is among the disappeared. There's Sam (Michael Raymond-James), a local cop who has a heart of gold. And Leah Kafka is also a pretty fun character, a hard-driven investigator who sympathizes with the environmentalist stuff but hates cults.
Why it could be your new crack: Well, it's sort of like Northern Exposure with a huge dash of Lost's Dharma Initiative. There might be a trace of Twin Peaks in there too. Besides Stiles, it stars Titus Welliver, David Harbour, Emma Bell and Michael Raymond-James. The pilot is written by The Event's Lisa Zwerling and directed by The Machinist's Brad Anderson. Julia Stiles image via Getty Images.
Zero Hour (ABC)
In a nutshell: ER's Anthony Edwards plays Hank, the editor of a paranormal magazine called Modern Skeptic — for the past 20 years, he's been debunking reports of werewolves, ghosts and "skunk apes." But then his wife gets kidnapped, and he finds himself stuck in the middle of the greatest conspiracy in human history — without giving too much away, his wife refurbishes old clocks, and she gets hold of one particular clock which holds the secrets of ending the world. And there's a secret society of Christian mystics who created twelve new apostles, who hid from the Nazis in 1938 — and the Nazis were on the verge of discovering the secret of eternal youth. In other words, it's entertainingly bonkers.
Memorable characters: There's Beck, the tough-as-nails and crafty female FBI agent who's been hunting the terrorist who killed her husband. And there's White Vincent, the terrorist, who's clearly aiming for a "Heath Ledger Joker" vibe. Oh, and there are Rachel and Arron, the two young staffers at Modern Skeptic who fight all the time but are clearly going to wind up together.
Why it could be your new crack: Mostly just for the crazy silliness — it sounds like the supernatural conspiracy stuff will be amped up even more than in the Emmerich pilot. And there is lots of talk about skunk-apes. So you know, fun. Anthony Edwards photo via Getty Images.
The Munsters (NBC)
In a nutshell: This one is just a curiosity, since NBC basically put the show on hold already. Bryan Fuller's reboot of the 1960s comedy was all set to start filming, and then NBC decided to change the name to Mockingbird Lane and make major changes to the concept. Among other things, the characters will no longer wear makeup, so they'll look more like everyday folks. And honestly, reading the script pages, it's easy to see why — the tone of the scrapped pilot is such a weird blend of camp and nuttiness, it's almost too much. It seems like the sort of thing that would have gotten a fiercely loyal but tiny cult following. The Munsters move into a house recently vacated by a serial killer who killed homeless people — the "Hobo Murder House" — and they quickly start racking up dead bodies, which they try to cover up in increasingly ridiculous ways.
Memorable characters: Grandpa Munster is always trying to use mind control to make people stop caring about their newly dead relatives, and it seldom seems to work. Also, Herman Munster rips out Eddie's scoutmaster's heart, and then worries about what to tell the boy.
Why it could be your new crack: Well, it obviously won't be, since they went back to the drawing board. It'll be going back into production in the summer, as a possible spring replacement show. Like I said, this version of the show would have been absolute and total crack for a small number of people who love campy weirdness.
Beauty and the Beast (ABC)
In a nutshell: The first of two dueling Beauty and the Beast TV shows, this one is based purely on the fairytale. And it's pretty clearly meant to appeal to everyone who likes ABC's latest hit, Once Upon a Time. It takes place in a fairytale kingdom, with a giant palace that looks like the Vatican on steroids. And the Beauty is an honest-to-god Princess named Grace (Ruth Bradley) who's next in line to succeed her father, the Emperor Dorian. She has to prove that she has what it takes to be the next Empress, in the face of lots of sexist dickwads. And then she meets Shiro (Scottish singer Darius Campbell), the former bodyguard of the previous Emperor, out in the swamp — and he gives her cause to doubt her own father's honor. The two of them form an unlikely bond, and he winds up being her protector.
Memorable characters: There's Cyril, the chamberlain who wants to school Grace in what it takes to be a strong ruler, even as he obviously seeks to rule from behind the throne. And Shiro himself could be a fun character, what with the fact that he's been turned into a Beast, and he has a lot of ugly history with the Emperor.
Why it could be your new crack: Basically, picture Once Upon a Time with only one fairytale, and without the sequences in the "real" world. With a dash of Game of Thrones, with all of its maneuvering and scheming. If that sounds fun, then this might be your cup of tea. Ruth Bradley photo via Getty Images.
Beauty and the Beast (The CW)
In a nutshell: The other Beauty and the Beast show is officially a remake of the 1990s TV series that starred Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. And this time around, it's a cop show! Smallville's Kristin Kreuk plays Catherine, a tough cop who's unlucky in love. She's still traumatized by the death of her mother nine years ago, in an incident where a mysterious "beast" saved her. And then while investigating a murder of a fashion magazine editor, she encounters the Beast (Jay Ryan) once again — and he helps her solve the case using his beastly super-senses. And it looks like every week, Catherine will solve another murder with the Beast's help. We discover that the Beast became superhuman and beastly as a result of a military experiment when he was a soldier in Afghanistan.
Memorable characters: Vincent, the Beast, is sort of funny — he hides out in a New York loft and watches lots of reality TV and plays Wii all the time. His roommate and protector is JT, who's sort of a Jonah Hill type. Meanwhile, Catherine's partner Tess is another tough cop with more of a sassy sense of humor.
Why it could be your new crack: If you enjoy The CW's other paranormal shows, like Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle, this could be another fun one — although the cop-show angle could get old fast. It's got all the makings of a zany monster soap opera, complete with brooding monster dude and his tough-but-vulnerable love interest. Kristin Kreuk image via Getty Images.