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Pilot Error: ‘The News’, ‘Area 57′, & ’17th Precinct’

Sometimes good ideas elude those who have no talent and sometimes good ideas need a little more time to cook.

This Pilot Error we look at three pilots who tried to go above and beyond, and for various reasons did not succeed.


The News

The News was a 2007 pilot for ABC about… well the news. A multi camera comedy with no laugh track and actually is really damn funny. Now, I may have found it funnier than you would since I worked in TV news for a decade and far too many of the things that happen in this pilot I witnessed first hand. It’s funny how unrealistic something may seem until it happens to you… repeatedly.

Anyway, the show was produced by Marc Buckland (My Name Is Earl) and features much of that same style of offbeat and yet naturalistic comedy. The events and dialog are strange and yet you can see THESE people actually doing and saying these things.

The plot is a small TV station in Arizona is having a few of the daily crisis moments that happen to fall on the new executive producers first day. Nothing goes right and while wrangling all of the eccentric personalities around her including handling her aging ego manic anchor, ushering in a hot young new anchor (much to the chagrin of the also aging anchor), dealing with a security video of employees having sex on property, failing to remember the name of her intern, keeping 2 of the reporters from killing one another and finding out the News Director is useless among others.

So a typical day working in the news really. I’m not kidding… in 10 years I saw ALL OF THIS really happen. This was less of a sitcom and more of a strange documentary that happened to have actors I like in it.

Notable cast members are Rachel Boston (Witches of East End), Jay Harrington (Better Off Ted) and Barry Bostwick (Rocky Horror Picture Show).

ABC chose not to pick up the show which is a shame as I stated it was actually funny and offered a weird PTSD experience to me. I thought I had repressed most of those incidents.


Area 57

Area 57 was made for NBC in 2007 and never picked up.

Their press release states:

“Taking on the challenge of a classified mission in a top-secret location is hard enough. Throw in a dysfunctional crew that despises you and an alien that makes fun of you and you’ve got one bizarre challenge on your hands. So what if Colonel Steven Isaac’s new career move turns out to be more punishment than promotion? He’s ready for it. Foul extraterrestrial bodily emissions? No problem. Random objects falling from the sky? He’s got it covered. Dirty looks and dirtier rumors? No worries. The laughs are all in a day’s work in this unique comedy.”

That really kind of undersells the show. That press release sounds like a generic Big Bang Theory type trash show when in fact Area 57 was very intelligent and shockingly witty.

Matthew Lillard stars as Colonel Steven Isaac, fresh faced and eager to solve the mysteries of the universe as he is assigned to the secret Area 57 base where an alien and alien spacecraft reside. Soon it is discovered that the alien in question is kind of an asshole (played perfectly by Paul Reubens) and has everyone on such edge that nothing here functions properly. Couple this with a hypochondriac coward (Jane Lynch) second in command and a steadfast and aloof general (Bruce McGill) you have quite a few funny things happen. Kelly Hu and Ravi Kapoor also star. Some very funny (accidentally) sexual wordplay results in Lillard having to write himself up on sexual harassment charges too.

The humor is unexpected and yet seems oddly welcome in this insane world where no matter what happens… it kind of makes sense (like the random cows that fall from the sky). I am ashamed to admit I found Lillard’s physical comedy to actually make me laugh.


17th Precinct

17th Precinct is a good idea that was not though out well enough.

“Oil, Electricity, Coal… the power that drives modern society; but what if science had never been invented? What if we relied on… magic? What if plants and magic powered our world?”

The background is that science was never invented and instead magic ruled our world. The police don’t carry guns they carry spell amulets and electricity has not been harnessed so fire is the power of the world. There are no coroners there are necromancers. They teach advanced mystical mechanics at college. You get the idea. That kind of thing yet the world is 2011. OUR 2011 but with science being replaced by sorcery.

Yet cars and TV and modern fashion and CD’s and airplanes etc… exist so you see how the concept if flawed from the get go. They have things here (designs and intellectual places) that could simply NOT have been achieved without the things they claim don’t exist in this world. Perhaps this was meant to be fleshed out later on but in the pilot they come off as poorly constructed.

The plot is basic police procedural pap with a twist being the magic angle. There are 2 separate cases that introduce us to the characters but really without the aesthetic changes you have seen all of this before. The only really interesting thing here is what would have been the ongoing plot… a group of people who believe magic is unnatural are creating science to combat mysticism. In the end they invent a bullet.

Created by Ron Moore after the 2003 Battlestar Galactica shit the bed in it’s final season. 17th Precinct was highly praised once the pilot leaked out in late 2011 and I am not sure why. Yes, it’s a cool idea but one that needed to cook a few drafts more before going to pilot. I can see why NBC passed.

17th Precinct stars the bulk of the cast of Battlestar Galactica plus Stockard Channing, Esai Morales and the amazing Eamonn Walker.

Knowing how Moore injected his own religious nonsense into Battlestar (god that final season was so awful) he attempted the same here. The same themes of anti-technology and the power of faith and spirituality are present and kind of overpower what should have been a clever twist on an old idea.

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