Tag: michael cooney

Spark (ABC) pilot preview: Can the new Empire be a dystopian steampunk soap?


Created and executive produced by Michael Cooney (Identity, 6 Souls). Directed by James Kent (Testament of Youth, The White Queen, Marchlands). Also exexutive produced by Ian Sander & Kim Moses (Ghost Whisperer, Profiler). For ABC, ABC Studios & Sander/Moses Productions. 58 pages.

Description: It is current day America, but not as we know it. Imagine electricity had never been discovered – in its place, gas and coal run the world and power our everyday devices. Now imagine the amount of power the people who own the gas and coal in this world would command. Two rival families, the Stocktons and the Lavelles, are battling for ages until a rebellious young woman, a tinker named Pin Jones, can level both their empires with a spark of invention…

With Antonia Thomas (Misfits), Regé-Jean Page (Roots, Waterlo Road, Fresh Meat), Tom Brittney (The Five, The Syndicate), Lena Olin (Alias, Welcome to Sweden, The Ninth Gate), Alex Lanipekun (Homeland, 24, MI-5), Austin Hébert, Tracy Ifeachor (The Originals, Crossbones), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Daredevil, ER, Chicago Hope), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Home Fires)…

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Despite the huge success of Hunger Hames worldwide and the honorable results of such movies as Divergent and The Maze Runner –-let’s not forget a few missteps like The 5th Wave recently– the dystopian genre has a hard time existing on television. Which is weird when you think about it since these movies work like series, through multiple episodes and cliffhangers at the end to make you come back the following year. We had The Lottery on Lifetime, if anyone remembers it. Guess not. The excellent The 100 of course. And not much else. Other attempts (The Selection at The CW, Delirium at FOX) were not picked-up to series. And I fear Spark will meet the same end. Even though I’m not totally convinced by its potential, I’d be curious to see what’s gonna happen in case it’s ordered. It could become another huge disappointment like Blood and Oil. Or maybe the new Empire is hiding behind it…

Most of the success of the pilot -a presentation was ordered first but they upped it to a full-length pilot then, which is a good sign– resides in its execution. The setting, the landscapes, as well as the costumes, need to be taken care of properly so that it doesn’t look cheap. The writer has a real vision of how this city and those people should look like in this alternate reality, circa 2016. It’s based on Steampunk, an aesthetic inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. He even offers a “look book” at the end of the script with visuals for cars working with coal cumbustion, underground bar and dance clubs, coffee machines or the heroine’s high heels. They decided to shoot in Prague, Czech Republic, to reduce the costs while most of the cast is coming from Europe, especially the UK. There’s no big name but promising newcomers, like Anthonia Thomas, a mini-Rihanna who was stunning in Misfits. Risky. But in case you haven’t notice, let me break it to you: the show can be labelled as “black”. 5 of the most prominent characters are. Good strategy. ‘cos that’s what it is. I’m probably going too far but imagine ABC slots the show on Wednesday at 10pm after Blackish, when Empire ends on FOX… Wouldn’t it be damn smart? Hire me ABC!

The network describes the show as a lavish primetime soap of passion, greed and hope. It’s true, it is. If it looks new and different from the outside, it’s very classical in the inside. Sometimes, it also feels a bit like a CW show with slightly older characters. Pin Jones is yet another Katniss Everdeen, a whip smart, courageous, independent, kind-hearted girl, soon to be torn between two men and two rival families: her boyfriend Captain Aidan Stockton, a rugged and sexy all man who’s deeply in love with her, he even hides a ring in his drawer; and Alex Lavelle, a more sophisticated handsome man, kind of douchy, who knows exactly who she is when he met her and has an agenda but can’t help liking her more than he should. You get the picture. A good ol’ love triangle. Pin’s mother is dead. Of course. She has a delinquent brother. A loving father. They’re tinkers. So they’re poor. Aidan’s mother is a great bitch. We’ll love hating her. Alex has a brother, who’s a terrible person. And an evil father. And Aidan’s most close friend and colleague happens to be Alex’s brother’s fiancée. Still following? Told you. It really is a soap.

But there’s action too, and many surprises. A few pages in, there’s a huge explosion, that kills someone. And later on, a coal train derails. And other people die. Won’t reveal you more but be sure a lot happens in this pilot. Like… maybe our Pin is on the verge of discovering something huge, that will change the face of humanity as they know it… At first, I had a hard time getting into the script. Those stories about gas and coal are so unsexy and sad. It lacks sparkle, electricity. It takes time before it gets interesting. It takes time before you can connect with the main characters. Too much time probably. But at some point, somehow, it starts to work. And you can see the potential and the emotional strength of this story. It resonates with our past and our present. It’s brighter than it looks. It’s more than a soap.

Spark is certainly a leap of faith for ABC. Sometimes, it’s good to take one. Especially since the network is in a tough situation. Before new boss Channing Dungey gets too scared of screwing her first little victories up –hoping she has some– there’s a window of opportunity to try new things, be bold. Spark is new. Sort of. And bold. A bit. And out of time. Why not giving it a chance? 

“Runner” (ABC) pilot preview: Thrilling ride from San Francisco to Mexico… and then?


Written & produced by Michael Cooney (Jack Frost, The I Inside, Identity). Based on Turkish series Son. Co-produced by Kim Moses & Ian Sanders (Profiler, Ghost Whisperer, Reckless) and Peter Horton (Thirthysomething, Once & Again, Grey’s Anatomy). Directed by Michael Offer (How to Get Away With Murder, Last Resort). For ABC, 20th Century FOX Television & Kim-Moses Productions. 61 pages.

Description: Lauren Marks, a sexy wife, loving mom, and career woman, sees her entire life turned upside down when she drops her husband Adam off at the airport for a work related trip and his flight crashes with no survivors. After a day of devastating grief, Lauren receives a strange phone call: her husband never boarded his flight. Relief turns to suspicion when she begins to realize that Adam may be connected to a dangerous Mexican cartel and an international gun running operation. Lauren quickly finds herself in a world she knows nothing about, where any mistake could turn deadly…

With Paula Patton (Precious, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, 2 Guns, About Last Night), Adam Rodriguez (CSI Miami, Magic Mike, Ugly Betty, Reckless), Brent Sexton (Life, The Killing US, Justified), Courtney Ford (Dexter, True Blood, Parenthood), Chris Johnson (Vampire Diaries, Betrayal), Megan Dodds (MI:5, CSI: New York)…

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I don’t have a good feeling about Runner. Sometimes there’s a pilot script you like but you can’t help thinking that it’s never gonna work once on the air and it’s hard to explain why. That’s the whole idea of trusting your instincts. I doubt that ABC’s president Paul Lee has the same instincts as me -and I’m not saying I’m right and he’s wrong- since the rumours are in favor of Runner: it should be ordered to series. So, I guess it will be a mid-season filler or it could also be eyed for a summer run, best case scenario. In my opinion, the show would be better off the regular schedule. It doesn’t really fit with what ABC already has, it can’t go beyond 13 episodes per season -or go beyond one season in fact- and shows like this one have been tried on the network previously. The stories were different, and the scripts were probably less exciting -or it’s the execution that failed- but they made it to the air anyway and they didn’t work at all. I’m especially thinking of Missing and Red Widow. Strong women who lose a loved one (husband, son…) and end up in big troubles because of the secrets they left behind. Runner also shares some DNA with another ABC pilot this year: Shondaland’s The Catch. But it doesn’t seem to bother anyone so…

I probably seem to be against Runner. But I’m not. Sure, ABC has better things to pick up, but it’s a solid pilot script that embarks us on a thrilling ride. It starts with an excellent scene, a flashforward showing our heroin blinfolded in a dark room, tied up to a chair, while a tattooed man is menacing her with a gun. Then she’s confronted with another woman and they’re told only one of them can survive. There’s a fight, a trigger is pulled and… 63 days earlier begins Lauren Marks’ journey, the day she thought she had lost her husband before discovering he’s not the man she thought he was. Of course, all of this takes time. And it’s breathtaking and exhausting. Sad too. The writer tries to add some emotional moments to the action-packed script but it always seems a little bit rushed. Paula Patton has to be good!

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Adam’s closest brothers and their wives, while another, Troy (Adam Rodriguez), the black sheep of the family for 10 years, is living in Mexico and will soon have a big role to play in the events. The show starts in San Francisco but in the very end we’re already in Mexico, with Lauren et Troy as the target of a sniper. That’s when she’s told to “Run!” and the title of the show suddenly makes sense. She has done nothing wrong but she’s now a person of interest for drug cartels and very big bad Mexicans guys. As much as I would have liked to compare Runner to Breaking Bad, I won’t. But I’m sure Michael Cooney (and ABC ?) had this example in mind… Oh and I forgot to tell you: initially, the pilot was developed for FOX last year. But since it was about an heroin and they don’t want to have one -look at all of their dramas (or pilots), there is none!- ABC took it instead. I’m not sure it was such a good idea in the first place.

Runner... I don’t know how to conclude this. I don’t know what ABC should do with you… Sure, you have a solid script I couldn’t take my eyes off for a second -even if I wanted to pee badly!- but beyond your pilot I don’t think you can maintain the same level of quality and thrills. Soon enough, you will turn into a ridiculous show with twists and turns that don’t make sense. That’s my biggest fear. You won’t work. You’re not a safe bet. Sorry, but I think ABC should run the other way and never look back.