Terra Nova: Inside the Making of One of the Most Ambitious, Challenging and Expensive Shows on TV

Hugh Stewart

The first exclusive on-set photos -- and definitive backstory -- from one of TV's most anticipated shows (that just happens to have Steven Spielberg's fingerprints all over it).

As you turn onto the one-lane gravel road leading to the Terra Nova set, you pass a multicolored sign that reads "Danger" in four languages. Lower down, another line appears. This time, in plain English, "Dinosaurs."

Installed in jest by the series' crew, it sets the mood for anyone entering the four-acre settlement of Terra Nova in Queensland, Australia. For it's here on the edge of the rainforest, a 20-minute drive from some of the country's best surf beaches off the region's Gold Coast, that this fantasy world becomes real.

It's a balmy mid-July day, and The Hollywood Reporter is here on set for the second time since December for an exclusive sneak peek behind the curtain of one of fall's most eagerly awaited -- and pricey -- shows. In what many have dubbed Avatar meets Jurassic Park, the time-travel drama, set to debut Sept. 26 on Fox, whisks the Shannon family and fellow settlers back 85 million years in time, from the dystopian world of 2149 to a promising prehistoric Earth colony known as Terra Nova. The day of the visit, two rival factions are facing off over one of the series' many mysteries.

All of this takes place against a backdrop of nine bamboo-infused homes for those settlers who have relocated to Terra Nova. A textile market shaded in solar panels features the kind of food selection no longer available in the future they've recently departed. A 24-foot-high fence with lookout towers armed with sonic dinosaur-repelling cannons surrounds the community. And a medieval portcullis-inspired gate opens upon command, providing safe passage for those refugees transported back through a fracture in time.

Missing from the visual are the dinosaurs and Cretaceous-era insects that will be dropped in by the Burbank-based team of special effects wizards as the sci-fi drama inches closer to its premiere. The epic adventure, which counts Steven Spielberg and former News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin among its many executive producers, was picked up straight to series with a 13-episode order, a product of both its scale and its budget. The two-hour debut alone has been pegged at a price tag between $10 million and $20 million, a fee Fox brass argues will be amortized over the course of the show's first season.

"Terra Nova is a big swing -- and the best of Fox tends to be big swings, in concept and/or tone," Fox Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly says of the series, whose buzz -- and scrutiny -- are almost unprecedented for the small screen. "We are in the big-bet business. So if you're looking to break through and garner a big share of a fractured audience, and it is going to be costly regardless, you take the most exciting shots you can for your audience."

While Terra Nova runs the risk of being overshadowed by The X Factor on Fox's schedule, Reilly and his staff have spent the better part of two years banking on the fact that the series will fill a void of big-event genre programming left by the departure of such shows as Lost and 24. The media may have chronicled the show's litany of setbacks, including torrential rain and departing creatives, but advertisers and international buyers alike are largely optimistic about the series' broad, family-friendly potential.

Thinking back, the grandiose offering of Terra Nova, which in addition to dinosaurs boasts floating holograms and technology from a futuristic world, was almost too big to even conceive.

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