Fox's ‘Terra Nova’ a Runaway Production at Nearly $10M — Before Filming

EXCLUSIVE: With marquee names like Spielberg and Chernin, big special effects, the pilot could end up costing $20 million

EXCLUSIVE

Though not a single frame of "Terra Nova" has been shot, cost overruns already have put the  the futuristic TV drama on the hook for nearly $10 million, TheWrap has learned.

And as prices and creative disagreements keep mounting on the Australia-based series, the pilot alone could cost as much as $20 million, according to insiders.

Fox, which is producing the series, declined to comment for this article.

Produced by Steven Spielberg and NewsCorp's former President and COO Peter Chernin, "Terra Nova" is meant to be a juggernaut on the order of "Lost."

But the series, green-lighted in the spring, has endured a protracted casting process in which the network failed to land big name stars such as Kevin Bacon and Kyle Chandler, as well as the recent exit of producer and writer David Fury.

Now new writers have been brought on – pushing the costs ever higher.

The network has enlisted several high level screenwriters with a background in feature films who are being paid on the order of $200,000 a week – a rate more aligned with movies than TV – to do substantial rewrites, according to an individual close to the project.

“It’s a debacle. The cost of the show is kind of a moving target,” the individual told TheWrap. “They’re down in Australia building sets like it's going to be the next ‘Jurassic Park.’”

There is some dispute that “Terra Nova” is a runaway production. Some individuals knowledgeable about the production say the network’s decision to pick up 13 episodes, which includes the two-hour pilot, account for the high pre-production costs. Moreover, Fox has never made a secret that it is willing to spend big in order to produce a new watercooler show.

"The genetics of Fox are hardwired to execute exciting, big swings that pay off. And ‘Terra Nova’ will be a big swing that we'll deploy opportunistically next spring," Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said during his presentation on “Terra Nova” at last spring’s Upfronts.

Still, just as HBO discovered with Martin Scorsese's pricey pilot for “Boardwalk Empire,” Fox is learning that when you enlist Hollywood superstars for high-concept series, you're going to pay feature-film prices.

The difference is that HBO doesn't have to sweat ratings with its $65 million gambit. Fox, of course, does — and its big bet won’t pay any dividends until the show finally premieres next May.

Many details of the show are being kept under wraps, but promotional material indicate that the series centers on a group of people transported from a dying world in 2149 to prehistoric Earth to be a part of human colony that will help rebuild civilization. It stars "Life on Mars'" Jason O'Mara and "Avatar" villain Stephen Lang.

Adding to the mounting portrait of a trouble-plagued production was the departure last month of  Fury, a “24” and "Lost" veteran serving as executive producer and a series writer. His exit under the dreaded “creative differences" cloud left showrunner Brannon Braga as the drama's only writing executive producer.

Braga’s distinction is especially eye-popping, given how top-loaded the series is with no fewer than six people earning producing credits, including Spielberg and star Lang.

Spielberg is the 800-lb gorilla in this scenario. And while he has displayed a Midas touch on the big screen, Spielberg's television track record has been uneven. For every “Animaniacs,” the hit cartoon show he executive produced, there’s a "The Pacific," which won Emmys but no great ratings, and a “Seaquest DSV,” the underwater adventure that premiered in the 1990s, also with great fanfare and middling ratings.

The announcement that Fox would debut the show in May — and not as a mid-season replacement — started industry gossips talking.  For its part, the network maintains that a spring curtain-raiser followed by a fall debut was always the plan.

And Fox always knew it would need to invest a lot of money to bring the show to the screen. After all, the series sprints back and forth from the future to a prehistoric world with dinosaurs.

In his Upfronts press call, Fox’s Reilly alluded to the fact that a project as ambitious as “Terra Nova” would involve a massive investment.

“It’s a very big bet,” Reilly said. “This thing is going to be huge. It’s going to take an enormous production commitment and production design elements. We ordered it directly to series.”

Still if “Terra Nova” turns out to be another “FlashForward” — ABC’s similar attempt to recapture “Lost”s’ high-concept glory — the pterodactyls will be circling the carcass.