Spielberg's Television Projects

Variety reports that FOX Entertainment is trying to get Steven Spielberg to jump onboard as one of the Executive Producers of its upcoming television series Terra Nova about time-travelers from the future who become transported to the age of dinosaurs.  Apparently, FOX wants to skip the entire pilot process and commit to a full series, which indicates that this will be a big budget endeavor.  Early reaction on the blogosphere has ranged from the cynical (comparing the description of the show to Land of the Lost or labeling it "Jurassic Park meets Primeval") to the excited, with Spielberg fans hoping that the director won't lend his name to a project that is less than stellar (even if his TV track record doesn't always support that theory).

I am leaning on the side of cautious optimism.  Remember, this is FOX, afterall, the network that has killed many good science fiction series before their time.  While Steven Spielberg has established himself as one of the greatest movie-makers in cinema history, this will not be the first time he has dabbled in the TV medium.  His career actually began on television.  Some of his boob-tube projects have been great, others have been disasters, but there have been some delightful guilty pleasures as well.  Here's a look at some of them:

Duel - Spielberg started his career working on episodic television, like Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Marcus Welby M.D., and Columbo, but it was this television movie that really earned him the spotlight as a director to watch. Based on the Richard Matheson short story about a killer truck, it perfectly showcased Spielberg's talent for visual storytelling.

Amazing Stories - I remember this anthology TV series fondly, even if the episodes were hit or miss.  Spielberg tried to recapture the feel of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and sometimes he succeeded (especially with the episodes he directed, "The Mission" and "Ghost Train"), but for the most part, the series was overly corny and didn't have the edge that the 1980s Twilight Zone remake had or the similarly themed Tales from the Darkside.

Tiny Toon Adventures - Spielberg has tried to produce a number of television cartoons in his life (such as Back to the Future: The Animated Series, Fievel's American Tails, Family Dog, and others) but this was arguably his best.  Yes, he also executive produced Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, but Tiny Toon Adventures reimagined the classic Warner Bros. animated characters for a whole new generation.  It worked because, unlike crap like Muppet Babies, these were all new characters with distinctive personalities (Plucky Duck, Buster Bunny, Furrball, Hamton J. Pig, Elmyra Duff) and not just prequel version of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the rest.

seaQuest DSV - Trying to be "Star Trek underwater," this show had a lot of potential but never really found its identity.  Roy Scheider was fun as Captain Nathan Bridger, Peter DeLuise was interesting as Dagwood, and the late Jonathan Brandis as boy genius Lucas was never as annoying as Star Trek: The Next Generation's Wesley Crusher. But the show never really found itself.

Band of Brothers - This wonderful HBO mini-series about an Army division during World War II captured some of the feel of Spielberg's motion picture hit Saving Private Ryan.  It deservedly won a lot of awards and featured a great cast.

Taken - The story was a little weak but the overall premise was great -- a multi-generational look at alien abduction.  Dakota Fanning, in one of her earliest roles, was brilliant.  I enjoyed it.

On the Lot - This reality show was an abomination.  I tuned in, expecting to see a great competition in which aspiring film-makers would go through an apprenticeship process with the greats of Hollywood, but instead this was a terribly uninspired show that died a tedious death.  Spielberg should be ashamed to have had his name attached to this poorly executed travesty.

What can we expect from Terra Nova?  We will soon find out.

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