Spielberg's costly sci-fi drama hit by production delays


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The Independent Online

After production delays, a flooded set, rising budgets and the firing – then rehiring – of its entire writing team, Steven Spielberg's sci-fi drama series Terra Nova has finally arrived. Almost.

Fox yesterday unveiled the opening episode of the most expensive TV series in history, billed as a $70m (£43m) CGI-packed mix of Avatar and Jurassic Park. Each minute of the series has cost an estimated £200,000.

Phones were confiscated from those attending an exclusive screening in London yesterday, and embargo forms were signed by the first to see the show. But barely had Spielberg's dinosaurs begun chomping victims when the words flashed up: To Be Continued. The most expensive pilot episode yet, at $20m and due to be screened in May, is not yet finished.

The 13-part TV series follows the Shannon family, who are sent back 85 million years from 2149 to prehistoric earth to save humanity.

The cast is led by Irish actor Jason O'Mara and Shelley Conn, previously seen in Mistresses. The Terra Nova production has been troubled. Producer David Fury left amid "creative differences". The writing team was fired to save money – then rehired. The set was hit by record flooding.

Hollywood screenwriters, on reported salaries of $200,000 a week, have been hired to give "heart" to the story.

Produced by Jon Cassar, the man responsible for 24, the opening episode of the series owes a debt to Avatar, with its "pioneer colony must save the planet" story. Stephen Lang, who played crazy Colonel Quaritch in Avatar is boss of the Terra Nova colony.

Fox is hoping to recoup its money from the costly TV series on international sales, DVDs, and downloads.

Fox, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, said that it had made a "big bet" with Terra Nova, due to launch in prime time in the United States and on Sky 1 HD in the UK later this month.

Other TV shows which have sent production costs soaring include the US remake of The Fugitive, the pilot episode of which is said to have cost $6m (£3.7m) to make.

But the series, broadcast in 2000, proved unpopular and was axed after only 22 episodes.

Hit US drama Lost (first broadcast September 2004) is said to have cost over $2m per episode, meaning that the cost of a six-season, 121-episode run was in the region of $242m.

All that is small change, however, compared to how much was spent on US channel HBO's pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire, directed last year by Martin Scorsese, which pushed the $50m mark.Emily Clarkson