Thursday, January 31, 2008

Zero Effect: The Television Pilot (2002)

As part of the Chronological Snobbery coverage of the tenth anniversary of the film Zero Effect (released ten years ago yesterday), today's post profiles the ill-fated 2002 pilot episode of the proposed television adaptation of the film (and features interviews with two cast members). Several years after the release of the film, Jake Kasdan, its writer and director, teamed up with Walon Green (the writer of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, among other things) five years later in an attempt to translate the film to the screen. British actor Alan Cumming replaced Bill Pullman as the brilliant and mysterious Daryl Zero, while Krista Allen, David Julian Hirsch (as Jeff Winslow, perhaps the replacement of the Steve Arlo character played by Ben Stiller in the 1998 film), and Natasha Gregson Wagner rounded out (presumably) the principal cast.

You will not be able to find a copy of this pilot on DVD or on the Internets. Many of those associated with the project never saw the completed pilot following its post production. There are likely copies somewhere in the vaults of NBC Television, Castle Rock Entertainment, and perhaps even elsewhere in the vast expanses of the Time Warner empire. Kasdan no doubt has a copy somewhere amongst his possessions and projects, but he is not sharing it.

Above: Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero.

Also credited, according to the pilot's IMDB entry, are Julio Leal and Andy Brewster (as Barfly and Barfly #2), Laura Ford, Tom Gallop, Patrick Wolff (as Room Service Waiter).

According to this Entertainment Weekly article, NBC passed on the series, forever condemning it to television limbo. But television pilots are a tricky business, as Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) observed almost a decade and a half ago in Pulp Fiction:

Well, the way they pick the shows on TV is they make one show, and that show's called a pilot. And they show that one show to the people who pick the shows, and on the strength of that one show, they decide if they want to make more shows. Some get accepted and become TV programs, and some don't, and become nothing. [Uma Thurman's Character] starred in one of the ones that became nothing.

Kasdan's show also became nothing, and for the most part, its existence is unknown. Kasdan no doubt built upon this experience when he wrote and directed 2006's The TV Set, a film starring David Duchovny as a television writer attempting to steward his own pilot through the treacherous network processes. But, alas, his prior pilot was not a special feature on that DVD.

Above: Zero (Pullman) illustrates his method.

Six years later, there is little, if any, information about the pilot on the Internets. Associates of Kasdan who responded to email inquiries remained tight-lipped. Said one person interviewed: "I'm pretty sure Jake would not be too interested in letting a copy out. . . ." Those who were kind enough to offer some memories could not recall specifics:

Remembers Leal, the aforementioned actor who portrayed "Barfly," about the project:

I was in LA selling a script and meeting with an Agent when a friend of mine was called to work for 2 days as a Medic for the show. I decided I would tag along. The Tavern in Aspen scene was set in a downtown motel bar. I was invited by Director Jake Kasdan himself to step in to the shot sequence in the Scene Featured along side the principle female Standing at the bar hearing a crazy Zero story that is being told by a thin white guy. The entire bar is listening enthralled.

David Doty, who played Officer Hagans in the 1998 film and just appeared in Kasdan's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, had two small parts in the pilot, about which he remembers little:

i was in the pilot that jake and waylon green shot. but have never seen it. jake said they should promo it "from the people who gave you "freaks and geeks" and "the wild bunch."

An interesting tagline indeed. (There will be more from Doty in tomorrow's post dealing with the behind the scenes of the film.).

Above: Zero (Pullman) gazes into the distance.

There may have been some attempt to maintain musical continuity with the film, as well. Michael Andrews of The Greyboy Allstars (interviewed in more detail in Tuesday's post about this scoring of the film) believes Kasdan "might have used our music in the temp but we wrote no new material [for the pilot]."

But little else can be pieced together. (Multiple attempts by Chronological Snobbery to obtain a copy of the episode, or even it script were unsuccessful at best, rebuffed at worst.).

Above: Zero (Pullman) hiding in plain sight.

One wonders if Pullman was initially approached about reprising the character for the pilot. Surely, a film star such as he would not be enthusiastic about a weekly television series (although he directed the 2000 TV remake of "The Virginian" as well as a 2001 episode of "Night Visions" and even appeared in the 2005 series "Revelations" and a 1986 episode of "Cagney and Lacey").

(UPDATE: Here is a 2002 thread from Ain't It Cool News on the pilot casting).

Above: Zero (Pullman) rocks out.

Digital Boy, in his recent review of the film in conjunction with Monday's general post on the film's anniversary, posits an interesting theory:
It should be noted that in 2002, Kasdan attempted to resurrect the character Daryl Zero for television, with Alan Cummings in the lead role. However, NBC did not pick up the pilot, which is interesting as that was the same year USA Network debuted its breakout hit “Monk”, which features a brilliant, yet neurotic private eye. [USA Network was purchased by NBC when NBC acquired Vivendi Universal’s North American-based entertainment asset in 2003].

Knowing the NBC of 2002, perhaps Kasdan would have had more success if he had simply renamed it, "Law & Order: Zero Effect"?

Tomorrow: In tomorrow's coverage of the Zero Effect tenth anniversary, Chronological Snobbery focuses on the behind the scenes of the film with cast and crew interviews.


Andrew Donaldson said...

Alan Cummings leaves a link to the pilot here:

Computer Service Guy said...

Never seen the tv version but the cinema film was great. I think it was one of the first good movies I saw with Ben Stiller :)