Having Steven Spielberg as executive producer on a new Fox show attracts attention. Then, when the network announces it's giving the show the "Glee" treatment and airing the pilot in May, expectations get a rocket boost.
But computer-generated dinosaurs only grow so fast, so the premiere of the science-fiction drama "Terra Nova" was rescheduled for Monday. Fox invited writers to see a cut of the first half of the two-hour pilot, and the special effects weren't quite done. Another viewing of a re-edited first hour weeks later revealed . . . the effects still weren't quite done.
With any luck, "Terra Nova" will hatch just in time for Monday at 8 p.m., but executive producer Brannon Braga (with him and Spielberg, about 12 people have executive producer credits) says they're moving right along.
Speaking in late August, he says, "We're working on the final two scripts right now. We're deep in postproduction on six and seven, about to start postproduction on episodes eight and nine. We're filming 10 and 11. We're in the thick of it."
"Terra Nova" (or "New Earth/Land/Ground" in Latin) begins in 2149, when the planet is blighted and overcrowded. Scientists discover a fracture in time, connecting the present with the age of dinosaurs.
So "pilgrimages" of humans and equipment are sent through the rift to establish a colony in the distant past in hopes of saving humanity and having a second chance for a better civilization.
But since the new land has the same old human beings, you can imagine how well that goes. "Just because we're aspiring to do better this time," Braga says, "doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to work out the way they want it to."
Jason O'Mara ("Life on Mars") stars as Chicago police detective Jim Shannon, who busts out of the prison he was sent to because he and his wife, Dr. Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn), broke their society's two-child rule.
Elisabeth is recruited for the Tenth Pilgrimage, and Jim risks it all to get himself, her, their teenagers (Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott) and their youngest daughter (Alana Mansour) through the rift.
Once there, he meets the colony's imposing leader, Cmdr. Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang), a lot of hostile (and nonhostile) prehistoric creatures and shockingly clean air.
A 'Butch and Sundance thing'
But there are issues with the neighbors, some pilgrims who seem to have a different agenda. Soon Taylor must call on Jim's law-enforcement skills to battle foes both animal and human.
"We were racing across the roofs of Terra Nova last night," says the Irish-born O'Mara, calling in from the show's location in Australia, "and then jumping from the roofs. I'm a little stiff this morning, but I've been training for it and happy to do it."
As for Jim's relationship with Taylor, O'Mara says, "We wanted to create a kind of Butch and Sundance thing, regardless of any age differences. We just wanted to tell a story about two guys who've come together with a similar cause.
"There are strains and conflicts in their relationship, but they, for the most part, have come together and united to make Terra Nova a better place and also to defend it against all attackers at all costs."
When phone problems prevent him from calling in, Lang offers to answer questions by email. Also asked about Taylor and Jim Shannon, Lang writes, "Very interesting relationship between Taylor and Shannon (The Great O'Mara). Both alpha males. Is there room in the colony for two? Have shifting measures of respect, affection and wariness for and of each other.
"Shannon is a family man; surrounded by love. Taylor is a loner, having lost most of the people he loved. Both hard guys, but both have big hearts. Both are totally committed to the vision of Terra Nova, a brave new world."
O'Mara concurs, saying, "His focus is to ensure the colony is protected and survives and thrives. My main focus is to ensure the same thing for my family."
A complex Utopia
Even though the idea of Terra Nova is utopian, O'Mara insists it's not going to be all dinosaur picnics and "Kumbaya."
"It's pretty psychologically complex," he says. "It's not a Pollyannaish show. That's one of the reasons I gravitated towards the initial premise. It's not just 'Swiss Family Robinson.' It has all the fun and adventure, but there's a lot of stuff that's going to be going on here."
And you won't have to wait years to find out about it.
Braga says: "I've always been a fan of 'If you have a good idea, don't sit on it; use it.' 'Oooh, we'll save that for season two!' 'Well, how about episode two?'
"Having said that, one of the premises of this show is you can't build Utopia in a day."