Spielberg's small-screen, budget-busting sci-fi series is Terra over


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The Independent Online

The sci-fi series about an imperilled planet that cost the earth now appears to have paid the price. Terra Nova is terra over. Never heard of it? That's because it wasn't very good, despite breaking small screen records with an extra-terrestrial budget.

Fox Entertainment admitted it was placing a "big bet" on Steven Spielberg's show, which has been cancelled after its first series. The CGI-packed mix of Jurassic Park and Avatar, which finished in December, was beset by production disasters involving floods, soaring budgets and fired writers. After a lukewarm reception, critics quickly grew tired. One British writer said: "A lot of the fault lies with what [characters] have to say to each other. The script is as corny and cheesy as a family-sized portion of cheesy corn nachos."

The price of those nachos? More than £45m, or about £130,000 a minute. The pilot episode alone cost a reported £13m. That sounds like a lot, but by the standards of glossy US telly with budgets that would give the producers of, say, Casualty, envy-induced heart attacks, it's about the going rate.

Spielberg has form, spending £80m on HBO's The Pacific. Meanwhile, shows such as Game of Thrones (£35m a series), Boardwalk Empire (£30m a series) and Lost, whose pilot cost £8m, have shown spending can pay off.

Money is starting to fly in Britain too; Julian Fellowes's four-part Titanic mini-series, which airs on ITV later this month, has cost an estimated £11m to make, while the second series of Downton Abbey, also screened on ITV, had roughly the same budget.

But throw what you will at fancy dresses and/or graphics if there's one thing you can't get away with on the small screen, it's a dodgy script. Filmmakers have the luxury of an audience who only need to be drawn through the cinema doors once. Beam several episodes into their sitting rooms, however, and good writing trumps CG dinosaurs every time.