Tag: dan byrd

The Doomsday Project (ABC) pilot preview: Think Scorpion, but bigger and smarter

Created and produced by Mark Bianculli & VJ Boyd. Executive produced by Carol Mendelsohn (CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Melrose Place, Providence) & Julie Weitz (Game of Silence). Directed by Joachim Roaning (Marco Polo, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales). For Sony Pictures Television, Carol Mendelsohn Productions, Pernomium Pictures & Signal Hill Productions. 61 pages. Draft 01/20/17.

Description: In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. government institutes a secret think tank featuring the most creative minds in science and entertainment that is tasked with dreaming up man-made disaster scenarios and their possible solutions. Because the hypothetical ideas are deemed extremely dangerous, the list is sealed and the program shut down. But when a catastrophe occurs that’s ripped from the pages of the missing doomsday book, the team is brought back years later to prevent the disasters of their own making…

With Claire Holt (The Vampire Diaries, Aquarius, H2O), Rachelle Lefevre (Under The Dome, What About Brian, Twilight), Taye Diggs (Private Practice, Murder in the First, Empire), Jack Davenport (Smash, FlashForward, Pirates of the Caribbean), Dan Byrd (Cougar Town, Aliens in America, Easy A), Rochelle Aytes (Mistresses, Criminal Minds, The Forgotten), Justin Chatwin (Shameless US, American Gothic, Dragonball Evolution)…

   

You’ll like it if you already like: Quantico, The Blacklist, Scorpion, Designated Survivor

Likely timeslot: Monday at 10, Tuesday at 10.

Remember last year when I entitled my review of MacGyver “And you thought Scorpion was stupid?“. This time it’s the opposite. The Doomsday Project shares a bit of DNA with both the CBS shows -it’s about preventing disasters from happening- but the stakes are higher than ever and all is done with an incredible sense of build-up and efficiency, with characters that you can only care about. Doomsday falls in the big-idea original drama concepts category that the broadcast networks were heavily pursuing this season but have been in short supply. ABC got the project in a three-network bidding by giving it a pilot production commitment that has a series penalty behind it. Meaning: there’s a big chance it gets ordered in may. It was compared to Designated Survivor in some articles, which is the only new ABC drama that looks like a hit this year, but they don’t have so many things in common. For starters, The Doomsday Project is a heavily-serialized procedural.

I’m in awe of the writers’ capacity to deliver so many informations and establishing so many characters in only a few pages. It reminded me of Quantico‘s pilot script in that way. It’s not an easy story to tell and easy concept to sell -the pitch is a bit of a headscratcher- and somehow they did it smoothly. It starts in the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that some of you may remember from the season 1 of The Walking Dead. The first disaster is about a deadly disease called Marburg that is stolen by four men in tailor made hazmat suits. We’ll discover later that they are planning to unleash it at the MET through the ventilating system during a private opera played for the biggest American Pharma companies. There’s a lot of action going on through the pilot, it’s always fast-paced, but the best part is happening in the last act with our characters being on the spot. It’s a great reward after watching them talking and arguing on and on in The Hub, a high-tech three level room with giant plasma screens everywhere, described as “a war-room from the future”. At some point, it makes you a little bit claustrophobic being there all the time, even when you’re not (claustrophobic).

I know what you may think right now: it sounds heavy and not funny at all. Well yes, it’s heavy -I mean, the whole world could collapse because of the disease- BUT it’s funny! You won’t laugh out loud like a crazy person, but you’ll appreciate the humor, skillfully exuded through the characters’ conversations. They all know each other very well, they have a common past, so they never hesitate to poke fun at each other and most of the time that’s how we learn more about every one of them. That’s a smart way to promise backstories, kept for later. Of course, they all have secrets. Some of them are already exposed. Others will have to wait. And as you can guess with this type of story, there’s a huge conspiracy behind. I’m always very cautious about that: it rarely works for the long haul. At least, this one sounds it could, if the writers are as brilliant as the characters and gave it a lot of thinking before jumping into the project.

What big concept shows lack of in general is strong characters. The Doomsday Project doesn’t have this problem. They’re all intriguing. Some are likable, others are not, but it’s okay. They don’t have to be as long as they’re interesting. And they are. And they really work as a group. ABC managed to assemble a solid cast with familiar faces. Kayla (Claire Holt) is the newest member of the Doomsday project. Considered the best cyber security analyst in the country, she’s efficient, irreverent, and not particularly interested in making friends. I love her already. And you’ll see, she even more important than expected. Faye (Rachelle Lefevre) is the whip-smart and shrewd Deputy Director of Homeland Security who is at the helm when the Doomsday team reassembled. Coldly pragmatic, she initially has little reverence for her assemblage of geniuses but during the course of the first mission, she develops a growing respect for the team. She’s an enigma. We have three very strong women at the center if you add Dr. Elle (Rochelle Aytes), a renowned physicist, MD and author, notable for her ability to popularize science, “making complex ideas disgestible for the masses”. It will help when things will get too complicated for us.

She was married once with the handsome and confident Dr. Davis (Taye Diggs), an engineer and architect, formerly the youngest-ever head of disaster prevention for FEMA. Fastidious, with expensive taste in clothes, he’s not fond of forays into the field. Warren (Jack Davenport) is a well-known intellectual playwright turned middle-brow action screenwriter. He is imaginative and creative and sees the world like a story which helps him think like (and even empathize with) the enemy. You remember his character in Smash? Same kind of asshole. Then there’s Nate Hensley (Dan Byrd), the younger one. He became rich as a professional analyst and is the founder of The New Oracle, a website that is devoted to predicting politics, sports and stock trading. He can hedge any bet and predict any outcome. Also, he’s gay. Finally, there’s Chris Wyatt, a Navy SEAL instructor. He’s the muscles of the team but also a brilliant mind: he’s specialized in military strategy. And yes, women and men are all very sexy in this show and there’s no reason to complain about it.

The Doomsday Project is one of the most ambitious project of this pilot season, but we all know high-concept shows are always those that burst into flames first. ABC needs to be careful here, especially since Quantico proved that their viewers may not be interested in this type of stories. How could they resist though? If the finished pilot is as solid as the script is, it has to be tried… 

Model Woman (ABC) pilot preview: Beautiful Bertie is no Ugly Betty

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Created and executive produced by Helen Childress (Reality Bites). Based on Robert Lacey. Directed by Richard Shepard (GirlsRosewood, Ringer, Ugly Betty, Dom Hemingway). Executive produced by Sarah Fain, Liz Craft (The Shield, Lie To Me, Dollhouse), Rosalie Swedlin (Lagies, Red Corner) & Scarlett Lacey (The Royals). For ABC, TrisTar Television, Anonymous Content & ABC Studios. 65 pages.

Description: It’s 1977 and the formidable Bertie Geiss, a tempestuous matriarch and uncompromising businesswoman, with her colorful husband Miller by her side, lords over the Geiss Modeling Agency, a monopolistic powerhouse that sets standards of beauty worldwide. Bertie has an eye for spotting talent and cultivates her finds by mentoring the “girls” in a sorority-type home with strict rules and regimens. As she nears hitting the big 50th birthday, her whole empire is threatened by her Paris partner Lio Fibonacci, a sexy, dangerous snake who is secretly pilfering models to join his new agency in New York while introducing the models to the disco nightlife of glamour, sex and drugs which Bertie forbids…

With Andie MacDowell (Cedar Cove, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sex, Lies and Videotape), Steven Weber (Wings, Studio 60, Leaving Las Vegas), Nicole Ari Parker (Rosewood, Soul Food), Caitlin Carver (The Fosters, Hit the Floor), Dan Byrd (Cougar Town, Aliens in America, Easy A), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, Law & Order: UK), Chris Mason (Lightfields, The Fades), Kaley Roynane (Gotham), Madeline Blake, Frank Harts (Billions, The Leftovers), Marcus Callender (Straight Outta Compton)…

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Every year, there’s a bunch of pilots you don’t understand why they got ordered. Not that they are awful. Just that they don’t fit with their respective network, and they don’t stand a chance in comparison to others. It looks like a waste of money and it gives false hope to the people involved. I guess someone inside the network roots for it, otherwise it wouldn’t be ordered at all. Right? In fact, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. That’s the case with Model Woman. It’s a pretty decent pilot but why in hell ABC would select this over way more on-brand properties? And it’s not like it was something critics would rave about either, like an American Crime. I’m guessing it has something to do with the fact that it’s produced by TriStar television, which was relaunched last summer. It’s their first broadcast pilot picked-up. Maybe it’s just a way for ABC to show their interest towards the company and start a relationship with them. Maybe Model Woman is just a pawn in the game. Or maybe I’m paranoid and they genuinely think it has a chance to become a hit. Which is worrisome.

Look at the description: “a soapy period drama set in the fashion world”. I have nothing against the fashion world. Ugly Betty was set in it and it worked for them after all. Every decade or so, they try something like this. Remember Models Inc. from Sir Aaron Spelling in the 90s with Linda Gray and Carrie-Ann Moss? Even though they introduced it as a Melrose Place spin-off: huge flop. Remember The Beautiful Life on The CW? Cancelled after two airings or so. It seems like it’s not a subject people are interested in it. Or they didn’t find the right way to talk about it yet. But then again, Ugly Betty kinda did. And Model Woman is not in the same vein, at all. The “period” part is the real problem here. Usually, period dramas bomb on networks. Not sure why exactly, but they do. ABC tried, among others. Remember Pan Am? And between models and stewardesses, there’s not a huge difference. At least at the time. The Playboy Club and Life On Mars are other examples.

Because Model Woman is based on the biography of Eileen Ford, the outspoken and controversial woman who started as a model and went on to co-found the famous Ford Modeling Agency with her husband Jerry, it takes itself pretty seriously. Not a good thing when you want to make a soap. It could have been a fun show. It’s not. Sure, some lines are but the fun stops there. And it lacks surprises and unexpected twists. And bitches! Models can very bitchy. Or at least we want them to be. I mean, Naomi Campbell was discovered by Eileen Ford. Where is she in this? Where are the bitches?! The character of Rebecca Blakewell, who betrays the heroine, is supposed to be one. But she’s not enough for me. Helenjane Harris, Bertie’s competitor is another one. But she already signs a pact with her in the pilot. Do we have bitchy men instead? Not really. Bertie’s husband is not that good a person, but not the devil himself. The two young boys are pretty cool. There’s just this Lio Fibonacci, a friend who’s now a competitor. But you have to wait for the end of the pilot to discover it. Too little too late. All those beautiful people, including the young innocent Gemma or Bettie’s daughther Michelle, are definitely too nice for a soap.

Like The Death of Eva Sofia Valdez, Model Woman gives a starring role to a 50-year-old woman. Kudos ABC, once again. Bertie Geiss really is “a tempestuous matriarch and uncompromising businesswoman” and she’s the heart of the show. Maybe she’s the only real bitch in there. She’s the queen. She knows how to make an entrance. There’s a lot to like and to hate about her. Her lines are the best, by far. For example, to someone who says “the FDA just banned saccharine” when she asks for a cake with no sugar but saccharine instead, she responds: “Well, sugar causes fatness. We have to pick our battle.” Slay, bitch! I don’t know if Andie MacDowell is the right fit though. She ages gracefully but we’re so used to see her as a shampoo saleswoman we can’t remember if she was a good actress in the first place. Honestly, I don’t know.

Model Woman is a decent pilot script but a weak contender for a series order. If the story was contemporary and soapier, I’d say “yes, why not?” but as it is, ABC wouldn’t know what to do with it and it’s not the right time to take any chances. Sorry Beautiful Bertie, you’re just no Ugly Betty.