A lot has been written lately, accurately and often inaccurately, about Fox’s high-profile prehistoric drama series Terra Nova whose behind-the-scene dealings are being put under a microscope because of the project’s enormous scope and the big auspices involved, executive producers Steven Spielberg and Peter Chernin. Here is what has been going on at the show, which is entering production on its two-hour pilot episode tomorrow with a table read.
Writer comings and goings: Veteran showrunner Rene Echevarria has been brought in to oversee the two-hour pilot. He will work alongside Terra Nova executive producer/showrunner Brannon Braga with whom he has worked before. Echevarria, who has a strong track record in day-to-day showrunning, production and post-production, has been tasked with bringing a steady hand to a massive production that involves large sets, big cast led by Jason O’Mara and Stephen Lang, and elaborate special effects. Echevarria was already at 20th TV – which produces Terra Nova with DreamWorks TV, Chernin Entertainment and Kapital Entertainment – as the writer-showrunner of the studio’s series adaptation of James Cameron’s True Lies for ABC. Braga used to get help from writing executive producer David Fury until, in a setback, he exited the series in September.
As for the other writers on Terra Nova, it is true that they were released on Friday as the show faces a 4-month hiatus for 2 months of filming the pilot and 2 months of post. That included Reaper creators Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters who will continue to work for 20th TV under their overall deal there, Chris Brancato, who has been consulting, two staff writers and a co-producer. For the lower-level writers, the move coincided with the end of their term as they had been contracted for a certain number of weeks. When 20th TV made the writer hires after the upfronts, Terra Nova was gearing up for a 13-episode midseason run, so the studio was planning a continuous production. When Fox later opted to give it the so-called Glee launch, with a two-hour pilot airing in May followed by a series rollout the next fall, the production schedule changed to filming the pilot, then taking a long hiatus until the pilot is completed to evaluate the dynamic and the chemistry among the characters before resuming production on the rest of the episodes. With the pilot script and the bible for the show’s first season completed, there will be no work for writers other then the showrunners, for the next 4 months, leading to 20th TV’s fiscally driven decision not to pick them up for the time being.
Under their overall deal, Fazekas and Butters just sold a project to Fox targeted for next fall. Also, they are close with Chaos creator/executive producer Tom Spezialy and have been lined up to join him on that show but, as negotiations between CBS for 20th on Chaos‘ midseason order dragged on for 2 months over the summer, the two were assigned to Terra Nova. I hear Fazekas and Butters have had conversations with Spezialy and would now likely join him on Chaos, which is yet to begin production on its 13-episode order. As for Brancato, he too has development with 20th TV, which is how he was brought in to consult on Terra Nova. He made significant contributions to the show’s bible and, if available, the studio intends to rehire him for the fantasy drama in April. “He didn’t do anything wrong,” an insider said. The situation does suck for the 3 lower-level staff writers though, as it is low staffing season, and there are very few openings out there.
Rewrites: There have been reports about extensive rewriters on the pilot by multiple big-name writers. In reality, it was one writer, Allan Loeb, who did an unaccredited polish, sharpening the dialogue and deepening some of the characters. The result is a script that Fox and 20th TV are happy with.
Budget: Also an area of frequent speculation because of the show’s significant upfront costs associated with building sets and developing elaborate visual effects. With that factored in, the price tag on the 2-hour pilot is said to be $14 million. (For comparison, the two-hour pilot for ABC’s Lost 6 years ago, whch has been the high-water mark so far, cost $12 million, while there word is that the budget for CBS’ stunt- and pyrotechnic-heavy one-hour Hawaii-0 pilot was around $8.5 million.) Of course, if Terra Nova doesn’t go beyond the pilot, the cost would shoot well over $20 million but that is only a hypothetical scenario as the show has a series order from Fox as well as strong international pre-sales, making a pilot-only scenario extremely unlikely. As for Terra Nova‘s episodic budget, with upfront cost amortization factored in, it is said to be about $4 million an episode not including tax breaks from filming in Australia. That is certainly a high-end drama range (That was the budget for NBC’s comic book drama Heroes, for example) but not exorbitant.
Overages: While this is a big-scope production and some estimates on location shoots, sets, etc. have been adjusted up, there has been only one major over-budget item so far: a $660,000 charge for delaying the start of production because casting on the series took longer than planned.
Big-name producers’ involvement: I hear that Steven Spielberg has stayed largely out of the picture since the initial meeting on the project while Peter Chernin, on the other hand, has been very involved. Chernin, along with his top TV leutenant Katherine Pope, are packing to go to Australia as are dozens of cast and crew members who are heading Down Under in the next few days.