Good news (and bad) about Spielberg's time-traveling dinosaur show

We've been hungering to hear something, anything more about Steven Spielberg's return to TV, and finally got some good news. Which is also sort of bad news, too. Because though it sounds like Fox will be treating Terra Nova right, it turns out we'll have to wait until next year to see this Jurassic series about a family traveling back to prehistoric times.

Terra Nova was supposed to be on in January, but now it's pushed until fall 2011. Fox Broadcasting Company Entertainment President Kevin Reilly told the Television Critics Association that we'll get to see the first episode in the spring as a sneak preview to build big buzz.

"We're going to be able to do the pilot right, have an enormous jump on that, on the marketing side hopefully re-create the same thing we did with Glee, let people understand the show, give them materials over the summer that we've already shot, invest them in it," Reilly said on Aug. 2 in Beverly Hills, Calif. "Every show is fragile, but sci-fi, I think, can be particularly fragile. I'm hoping one of the things we can take out is the unknown of the production factor. Bottom line is we want to do it right, so I think that time is going to bode very well for the show."

So Reilly extended Spielberg and crew's deadline. Now they can take until about May to deliver the best introduction to Terra Nova, and we don't have to settle for a rush job.

"It was mainly due to the scope of what the show is going to take," Reilly said. "We got into it knowing it was going to be ambitious, knowing we had some groundbreaking digital effects we were bringing to it, knowing we had to create an entire world and mythology. Frankly, even locking in a location has had a unique set of challenges. A lot of the world will be created digitally, but we're trying to find a prehistoric world. We've explored everywhere from Louisiana to Hawaii to Australia to Orlando. Each has had pluses and minuses. We're getting close to locking in a location. It's actually been very, very exciting. We've got a great team, we've seen a lot of design work, but it really became apparent to do this show right, we'd need the time. So we decided to make a virtue of it, slow it down this season."

Starting this early also means every episode is going to be better. They'll need more time than the usual show to do each weekly adventure. "This is not a show where they can finish one week and three weeks later it's on the air," Reilly said. "That's just not going to be possible. We need to be ahead of it. This cycle sets us up for that."

Reilly's following Spielberg's advice, too. The Hollywood director has been personally involved in guiding Terra Nova. He's not just slapping his name on as a producer. "He's been around," Reilly said. "He has not started his next movie. He has been in town. He has been very engaged on every element of it, from the conceiving of the world to the initial script and characterizations. He loves it, and when you get in the room with Steven Spielberg, you see it's Steven Spielberg."

Spielberg's influence isn't just on the production. He knows a lot about special effects, but he also likes to put family units in the middle of monster destruction. "Beyond dinosaurs, it is family adventure," Reilly said. "That's been the thing of huge tentpole movies. It's been the stock in trade of some of his most successful movies. It feels like a natural for television, and yet think about it: Has there really been a show that has put literally a family in jeopardy? Family dynamic set against something extraordinary, or in a more figurative sense, a family adventure that I'm going sit down and watch this with my own kids. We're not aiming for 2-year-olds, but I've got 12-year-old twin boys, and this is going to be on our Tivo for sure."

Besides Spielberg, Reilly assembled Fox's top show makers. People from their long-running hit 24 have jumped on Terra Nova. "We have our team of writers, we have our director," Reilly said. "John Cassar, who is our in-house director of 24, is joining [as a producer]. He's back with some of his old compatriots. So we've really got an A-team on it, doing a lot of work right now, generating stories and scripts and material and prepping location. Alex Graves is going to direct. All the elements are top-notch. Everybody's been excited about it, so we've gotten a top-notch staff. Alex Graves certainly had plenty of choices, all of the effects people, everybody behind the scenes."

So after the big spring preview, when we finally sit down to watch Terra Nova every week, what night will it be on? Reilly hasn't decided that yet. "We have several options, but we'll talk about that in January."

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