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How close we got to being on the Global Frequency

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Sometime last week the rejected television pilot for a series called Global Frequency was leaked on the web. The show was based on the comic book created by bad boy comics author Warren Ellis. The response by fans was generally positive, as was network testing, which brings to mind a question: why might the WB Network have given the thumbs down to a series that could prove so potentially popular?

Warren Ellis’12 issue mini-series Global Frequency told the story of the worldwide rescue agency of the same name manned by 1001 operatives with specialties as diverse as genetic fingerprinting, computer hacking, espionage, hand-to-hand combat and le parkour running. The organization was led by the enigmatic Miranda Zero and co-ordinated by the spunky Aleph, a woman with an innate knack for super-processing, an advanced ability to multi-task. Specialists were brought “on the frequency” based on appropriate skills and proximity, in other words they were in the right place at the right time. Some of the operatives were eager to do their duty, while others were downright resentful.

Ellis’ book thrilled on many levels. Since different operatives were necessary for different missions, there was always some doubt whether they’d survive their assignment. Each of the characters were compelling in their own way, and the theme of normal people helping to solve the world’s problems was emotionally uplifting, while quite a ways short of saccharine. Ellis, known for his angry and violent characters, created a group that retained a roughneck sensibility, while at the same time stayed simply hopeful.

The comics series was developed into a television series by Writer/Producer John Rogers and Producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice). Some changes had to be made. The original concept lent itself very well to an anthology format, like Twilight Zone. It could also be seen as a cross between the X-Files and Mission Impossible. One problem with the adaptation is that of the two most recurrent characters, Aleph is most often only in a support position, and Miranda Zero is enough of a cypher that audiences would never know what she was thinking.

Rogers made a decision to create two new characters to drive the show: Sean Flynn and Dr. Katrina Finch. Flynn and Finch would be the Mulder and Scully of the series, with Aleph and Zero pulling the strings behind the scenes. The show would feature a rotating cast of operatives who may or may not recur.

The script of the pilot is based heavily on the first issue of the Global Frequency comics series, Bombhead. Flynn (played by Josh Hopkins) happens upon a corpse in an alley, finds the Global Frequency phone and is recruited to the cause, where his detective skills would come in handy. He’s joined by Frequency veteran Finch (Jenni Baird), who has an extensive knowledge of of particle physics. Miranda Zero (Michelle Forbes) uses her pull to access secret information, and Aleph (Aimee Garcia) holds the team together.

According to Rogers, the pilot tested very well. Results from testing showed that the pilot performed nicely among men between the ages of 18 and 24, though not as popular with women in the same age range. While focus groups and market research groups can be tricky, Rogers feels that there were other factors that led to the WB’s rejection of Global Frequency. More specifically, there was a change in leadership at the network that happened in the midst of shooting the pilot.

“A pilot's job is to give you the tone of the show,” says Rogers. “We delivered exactly what we promised all the way through development. You'd have to ask the WB folk why they passed. It may have been that it didn't fit their creative vision of the type of show they wanted. I'm sure some of it was that in the middle of shooting, they changed network heads - in which case, we delivered exactly what we promised, but to a guy who'd never asked for it. He still gave it a fair trial, and was quite generous in our dealings with us - but TV shows are part of an overall network/season strategy, and we just didn't fit in. We moved on and unfortunately were trying to place it just when everyone was shooting there own pilots. So why should they take a gamble on someone else's show when they were busy betting on their own projects?

It's interesting that this has happened now, when people are looking at the vast wasteland of their broken development. We'll see what occurs.”

Then the pilot was released surreptitiously on the web. Fans grabbed at the chance to download the episode. According to Rogers, 4000 more distinct visitors than usual visited his website after the news was announced, earning a bigger number of hits than the news of a popular Transformers project, that had a budget of over $100 million. That would be unusual for a show that never aired.

What’s next for the intrepid television show? Fans are planning letter-writing campaigns, but Rogers admits the odds of mounting a successful campaign are slim. Rejected pilots typically don’t develop an audience, outside of cult hits like Jack Black’s Heat Vision and Jack. Other recent series vindications like Joss Whedon’s Serenity, and the return of fan favorite cartoon series Family Guy each had DVD releases that justified their existence on a purely dollar for dollar level.

“For more GF episodes,” Rogers wrote in a recent blog “I have to somehow find $26 million dollars for 13 episodes of production (that stings, eh?), find somebody to air it (not airing them, going straight to Internet or DVD would require an even MORE insane paradigm shift) and convince the powers-that-be the DVD box sets will be profitable. That'll not only require stunning acts of fiscal contortion, but the fan base/buzz/media attention has to be of a truly EPIC proportion. What are the odds of that? I'll tell you -

“The odds of this working are way, way too small to take seriously. BUT... having said that, I'll make some calls, talk to some humans. I'll try to learn, in what time I have, how this totally new process could work.”

Rogers says as well that he will post any pertinent news and addresses whenever he learns where such efforts would be best aimed. Fans may be inspired enough to mount a worthy effort, like their heroes on the Global Frequency, a group of individuals working together to make a positive difference in the world against horrific odds. 

Who knows? Maybe it could happen.

- Neil Figuracion

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