Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pilot Script Review - Cult

Network: CW
Written By: Rockne S. O'Bannon
Draft Date: January 6, 2011 (I suspect the title page means 2012, but that's what's on it)
Pages: 63


Scripts like Cult are what I like to read. It's imaginative and ambitious, to say the least. Ambition and a distinct voice are what broadcast shows need if the networks want to stop ceding ground to cable and its supposed hands-off executives and creator/showrunners' creative license and freedom.

Which is not to say that Cult is going to work, mind you, as either a pilot or a series. I just like the fact that someone (Mark Pedowitz) picked something like this up to shoot. This was the third CW script I read and, IIRC, the first pickup made. When I read it (and I held off on reviews until I'd read all five of the dramas picked up so far), my first thought was "If Cult is the vision Mark Pedowitz has for the post-Dawn Ostroff CW, then things are really going to change on the netlet." Now having read and reviewed Mile High Medical and read The Carrie Diaries... well, let's just say that some bets are being hedged.

Cult is about as far away from Gossip Girl as you can imagine. It's a swing-for-the-fences kind of show. The thing about trying to hit a home run is (*note: I have no idea if this is actually true in baseball*) you're going to miss more often than if trying to just get a solid on-base hit.

Or something about a pop fly to left field? I don't know. Sports aren't really my thing.

Anyway, Cult is one of those shows that is either going to be a hit or a spectacular failure. These kinds of big idea shows tend to be one or the other, and for every Lost or Heroes, there's... every show that was spawned by the networks trying to make a compatible lead-out or get their own version of said hit.

But what is Cult? I'm still trying to answer that question. It's a show so darkly meta I don't quite know what to make of it, where obsession with television and television shows and the delusion that fiction might be bleeding into reality is, itself, the point. It kind of winks at you and says "it's just TV!" then asks, "but wait... is it?"

Cult is about a detective, Eric Collins, whose family has been kidnapped, he believes, by this really nefarious cult leader, Billy Grimm. But Billy's smart. He has minions, lots of minions. Brainwashed minions. They do his bidding, so his hands are clean. But our hero is sure that he's responsible. And, naturally he wants his family back.

But wait. That's just the plot of Cult, the television show within the show Cult. This show. Man, people are obsessed with it. It's kind of creepy, and it's got all of these audience-participation add-ons, online components, etc. It's the kind of show you watch with a group or people but no one is allowed to talk, or alone in a dark and you turn your cell phone off because god forbid someone calls you during it. It's the kind of show where even if you work on it, like go-fer Skye Yarrow, you don't know what's coming next. You've never met the boss, Steven Rae. The crew gets annoyed when they're told some small detail, like a graffiti symbol in the background, isn't right because, dammit, the smallest details are just that important because THE FANS WILL NOTICE. The network brass want to make the show more accessible, etc.

But, really, Cult is about Jeff Sefton, a shamed reporter trying to rebuild his reputation whose younger brother, Nate, is obsessed with the show Cult (and we're talking way beyond the obsession of, say, a Lost fan who wrote 4 8 15 16 23 42 on a chalkboard after Numbers aired in 2005... not that I'm admitting to anything...), who is scared for his life, believes that the show Cult is something more than just a show, and goes missing or, perhaps, has been murdered... leaving clues only Jeff can pick up on. Will Jeff jump down the rabbit hole for his brother? Can he believe that something more than a TV show is happening? Jeff's first attempt at finding the truth is to visit the set of the show, where he meets Skye, and eventually an unlikely partnership is forged between a skeptic and a believer.

Oh, and there are a helluva lot of other plots and characters (like meeting the actors who play the characters on the TV, a number of scenes from the show (which is, actually, kinda of arch/big), and more.

So... is your head spinning?

There are elements I don't love. I think that some of the crosses between the show-within-the-show perilously teeter from "thematic" to "redundant." What with the hero-detectives and their missing-maybe-murdered family members and such. But, again, that's the point. Some of the in-show marketing for the show-within-the-show is... well, let's just say that it's probably not how an actual marketing department would market anything.

I don't know if Cult is going to work, if it can find an audience, or if it can keep that audience hooked without confusing the crap out of everyone. But I'm excited to find out, and I want to know more. And that's really all any TV pilot script can ask.


Enigmatic Anon said...

As a baseball fan the analogy is spot on. Hitters who hit to get on base are more successful than hitters trying to get a home run.

Not to get off topic but this script sounds big. It's majorly ambitious and if it had a possibility of working the only 2 networks I would even think of seeing success would either be on the CW or possibly ABC.

It's hard to consistently maintain the story within a story (or TV show within a TV show) element without confusing or turning off the viewers. Casting and writing could have this show dead if the pilot deviates from the script too much but it's something different and that's worth a shot even if it's not something I could see myself getting into.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like the kind of pilot that while watching it Shirley Bennett would say "Get to the point Charlie Kaufman! Some of us gotta work tomorrow."

Anonymous said...

This is the 2011 draft. It was developed at ABC last year. You did not read the CW draft.

Travis Yanan said...

@Anonymous 9:06PM

That makes sense... given that the network the show-within-the-show Cult airs on ABC at 10pm! I hadn't looked into exactly when/where this had been developed before, but this is the version that is "out there" so I suppose the CW version will be, potentially, a complete surprise!

Anonymous said...

I loved Mr. O'Bannon's show Farscape, and if this show has a similar verve, I'll definitely want to see it.

The scripted show on CW that I've really enjoyed is Nikita, and although it seems to be the least watched show in America, I appreciate CW's efforts airing it.

My kneejerk reaction to the title is negative, "Cult" doesn't intrigue me, it makes me think of sheep.

Anonymous said...

The casting sides are available on Showfax, sounds like the characters are the same...

DuMont said...

I know it's not the case, but I'd like to think that some of my repeated on-line hankering for this old 'Cult' put pilot by Mr. Rockne S. O'Bannon for The WB may have caused someone at The CW to dust off the old file for another look. Wouldn't it be sweet if Mr. Matthew Bomer could suddenly become available to star in this series as he was tapped to do so in the old WB-era pilot?

If The CW isn’t happy with their pilots for next season consideration, I shall ever dutifully continue my advocacy for four additional passed over pilots (hey, they're cheaper too!) from previous WB/CW development cycles (I cannot think of a single UPN carryover project that deserves retreival from the shredder):

1. Buzz on the ‘Body Politic’ just won’t die, and by all accounts it’s groundbreaking and different (why can't we have a politico-activist-oriented series on the Facebook generation?). If there are doubters within the CBS-WB hierarchy, why not air the old pilot and see how grabby the audience finds it.

2. I’d love to see someone else (Mr Travis Yanan?) come out with a call for ‘Host’ go to series. This one had so much buzzchat from people I respect about its very original-sounding pilot.

3. ‘The Lone Ranger’ was an excellent pilot for a modern take on westerns, although it would probably have to be recast. But who knows, perhaps Mr. Chad Michael Murray might sign up for it, presuming he hasn't forgotten how to ride a horse. Given that westerns are a real roll of the dice with kids these days, this should be a limited season order (say 8 episodes) to use as a mid-season tryout.

4. ‘The Robinsons’, a quirky remake of ‘Lost in Space’ that was one of the very last WB pilots produced and with Mr. Kellner's trendoid stamp all over it. I seem to remember it being a two-hour pilot, but one that moved very quickly with a real cliffhanger ending. This one could fit rather nicely with the emerging scifi block of programming on Thursday and Friday nights.

Anonymous said...

Since Fan favorite Matt Davis is casti in the lead they already have a built in audience and he is on CW TVD also. So look out!