EXCLUSIVE: Before AMC’s smash The Walking Dead, hit French series The Returned and ABC’s upcoming Resurrection, there was the 2007 CBS/20th Century Fox TV pilot Babylon Fields, from Michael Cuesta, Gerald Cuesta and Michael Atkinson, about a town’s residents coming back from the dead. Though it had a momentum, it missed the cut for fall 2007 and then midseason 2008, but the demise only cemented its instant cult status. Now Babylon Fields is getting a second chance at NBC, which has ordered a new pilot. The Cuesta brothers and Atkinson are back in their original roles as writers (Gerald Cuesta, Atkinson) and director (Michael Cuesta). The three will executive produce for 20th Century Fox TV. As part of the pilot order, Michael Cuesta has inked a two-year overall deal with the studio.
Described as a sardonic drama, in Babylon Fields, the dead are rising in Babylon, NY, and as a result, lives are regained, old wounds are reopened and families are restored — for better or worse. The newly regenerated bodies are healing faster and growing stronger than anyone else leading to the suspicion that they might be the next step in human evolution. Babylon Fields has long been a passion project for NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke, who developed it in her previous role as EVP Creative Affairs at 20th TV. Despite often getting the “zombie” label (the pilot’s deceased did look the worse for wear — bad skin, autopsy scars, open wounds, worms and all), according to the creators, Babylon Fields goes beyond the initial ‘return of the dead’ conceit, exploring the power of human connectedness, the next steps in our evolutionary progress, the slow-boil conflicts between the new societies, religions and mores birthed by the phenomenon; and the question: who, ultimately, is more fully human — the living, or the dead?
While pilots come and go, very few have had the staying power of Babylon Fields. Clips and the entire pilot surfaced online soon after it got the pass by CBS (you can watch the original pilot starring Ray Stevenson, Kathy Baker and Amber Tamblyn below), and it has remained on people’s radar, recently evoked in conjunction with the French series The Returned, which A&E is remaking with Carlton Cuse, and ABC’s Resurrection, which share a similar premise. (The Returned is based on a 2004 French movie, Resurrection on a book.)
The overall deal marks Michael Cuesta’s return to 20th TV where he directed, exec produced, and worked on set day-to-day on the first two seasons of the studio’s Emmy-winning Homeland, including directing the pilot. “We’ve had such a meaningful partnership with Michael from the original pilot which was always a favorite of executives in our company, to the celebrated work he’s done on Homeland from its pilot through the second season,” 20th chairman Dana Walden said. “Having an opportunity to remake Babylon Fields, which will be part of our new overall with Michael, is kind of a dream come true. Jennifer Salke deserves a tremendous amount of credit here. She worked with us on the original and led the charge to bring Babylon Fields back to life on NBC.” Cuesta has helmed the pilots of 4 series that have aired this year: Showtime’s Homeland and Dexter and CBS’ Blue Bloods and Elementary. He recently wrapped Focus Features/Jeremy Renner vehicle Kill The Messenger. The Cuestas are repped by WME and attorney Andrew Hurwitz.