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Fox’s Terra Nova follows the Shannon family and other settlers who, threatened with extinction in the year 2149, travel back 85 million years in time to join a prehistoric Earth colony.
The Hollywood Reporter visited the Queensland, Australia, set to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Fox’s highly anticipated — and heavily scrutinized — show ahead of its premiere. [Read THR’s review here.]
Here are 10 things to know from THR’s cover story before watching the show — which counts Steven Spielberg and former News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin among its many executive producers — when it debuts Monday night:
1. Don’t expect a Jurassic Park redux. The dinosaurs from Terra Nova are not from the same period as the ones in Spielberg’s movie. Instead, they are from the Cretaceous period, 85 million years in the past. The pilot will feature a Brachiosuarus and a Carnotaurus, and there will be at least one dino per show. Though Spielberg brought in the same paleontologist he used on Jurassic Park, “he didn’t want people to see a show affiliated with his name where they follow the same dinosaurs they saw in Jurassic Park – like a T. rex running around,” said Brannon Braga, who shares showrunner duties with Rene Echevarria.
2. Life on Terra Nova won’t be easy. In addition to the dinosaurs, there are rival factions along with many mysteries at the heart of the show. 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.
3. The show was originally supposed to premiere in May but was delayed for multiple reasons. After Terra Nova was teased to the media at January’s Television Critics Association tour and then again in a Super Bowl commercial, Fox abruptly announced that its two-hour premiere after American Idol would be pushed back to the fall. Braga acknowledges they were short of material (the set had been plagued by torrential rains); there were also executive departures that complicated the creative process. “It’s never fun to publicly change an announcement,” Echevarria admits. “We went to Australia with the hope of hitting a home run, and we hit a triple.”
4. Family is a big theme. The producers returned to Australia determined to add an emotional hook to ensure the series would appeal to the family audience that its 8 p.m. slot necessitates. The plot now revolves around the Shannon family — matriarch Elisabeth (Shelley Conn), a doctor who helps her inmate husband Jim (Jason O’Mara) escape prison and, with their three children (Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott and Alana Mansour), head for a new life free of 22nd century population laws put in place to combat the planet’s overcrowding in Terra Nova. The pilot now includes a prologue telling their story. “I felt it was a mistake to ask the audience to follow these characters who you don’t know,” Echevarria says. “You can throw endless amounts of money at the screen, but if it doesn’t have a heart, people just don’t care.”
5. Avatar’s Stephen Lang was the first actor to be cast — and he was handpicked by Spielberg. The exec producer made his first choice very clear on who he wanted to play paramilitary guy Nathaniel Taylor — the first to travel to Terra Nova. “He was always an advocate of Stephen Lang — and he was right,” Braga says.
6. You won’t see any oxygen masks on Terra Nova. Spielberg also was responsible for the “rebreathers,” masks inhabitants of 2149 wear as there’s no longer fresh air on the overcrowded earth. That people from the overpopulated future nearly choke to death when they arrive in the oxygen-rich Terra Nova was an ironic twist that also came directly from him. “It was such a cool detail,” Braga notes. “A lot of the ‘Here’s what would really happen if…’ came out of Spielberg’s brain.”
7. The show isn’t cheap. ?The two-hour premiere episode alone has been pegged at a price tag of between $10 million and $20 million. “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 told THR. “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.” Terra Nova was picked up straight to series with a 13-episode order, a product of both its scale and its budget.
8. Spielberg vetoed Hawaii as the shooting location. Among the early decisions that needed to be made was where the production would shoot. The plush landscapes of Hawaii seemed a suitable choice but Spielberg vetoed that option, fearing that the comparisons inevitably drawn to his earlier dinosaur feature Jurassic Park would become that much greater if the two projects were to shoot in the same locale. Florida, Louisiana and New Zealand were all voted out as well. On to Australia.
9. The show impressed at Comic-Con. About 4,000 people turned up to see the series’ first hour at the annual San Diego convention in early July — and they were audibly impressed with the dinosaurs. The most fervent response during the hourlong session came when executive producer Jose Molina vowed that audiences would see “dino-on-human action,” capitalizing on the crowd’s enthusiastic response to a battle in which a dinosaur came out on top.
10. Fox wasn’t the only network interested. Originally titled Gondawana Highway, the then 12-page short story by British writer Kelly Marcel found its way to former William Morris scripted television head Aaron Kaplan in 2009. He intercepted just as Marcel’s U.K.-based agent was deep in discussions for a deal with Syfy U.K. “I begged her to put me on the phone with Kelly,” Kaplan recalls, ultimately convincing Marcel that the only way to sell a project of this size was to do so in the U.S. “I was hooked by the paradigm of the future and the past,” Kaplan says. After shopping the show around in late 2009, both CBS and Fox were interested, a source says. In the end, the team was struck by Fox’s track record of betting big on out-of-the-box shows like Prison Break, 24 and Glee.
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