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TV PILOTS: ONCE UPON A TIME, ALCATRAZ and other TV Pilots Await Their Fate

Published April 21, 2011 on Vancouver is Awesome.

In less than a month, the five American broadcast networks start to unveil their fall plans in New York and we will know if modern fairy tale series Once Upon a Time, J. J. Abram’s sci-fi Alcatraz and a handful of other TV drama pilots we saw filming in Vancouver will make it to series for next season. Of course some drama pilots which filmed elsewhere may end up as a 22-episode production in our city too because it’s still cheaper to film here. Still, nothing is guaranteed with 42 drama series pilots in total vying for a limited number of primetime slots.

At ABC, drama pilot Once Upon a Time is vying for a slot at a network with a lot of drama openings and a long list of strong contenders. It focuses on a town where fairy tales appear real and stars a blonde Jennifer Morrison (House) as the grownup child of two fairy tale characters. I spotted Morrison in late March coming out of a scene inside the Shore Club and heading towards a driving scene in a yellow VW bug on Seymour Street, where she apparently starts the journey to her new home. That town will look remarkably like Steveston in parts and has one big greenscreen wedding sequence with over 200 extras dressed as fairy tale characters. I wonder which characters Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) and Robert Carlyle (SGU) will play.

FOX drama pilot Alcatraz, which has strong early buzz, follows a police officer, played by Sarah Jones, investigating the reappearance of 300 prisoners and wardens missing for 50 years from the notorious San Francisco island prison. But it will be tough for the network to find a spare spot for another scripted drama after renewing J.J. Abram’s Vancouver-filmed Fringe for a fourth season. The cult TV show creator reportedly flew up here for few days in late January to oversee filming of the Alcatraz pilot, also starring Jorge Garcia (Lost’s Hurley), plus a hilarious scene of Fringe featuring guest star Garcia getting high with John Noble’s Dr. Walter Bishop. I tried so hard to find where Alcatraz was filming during Abram’s visit but kept showing up after they’d wrapped for the day: first in Queen Elizabeth Park where they filmed a funeral scene with a freshly-dug grave covered in floral wreaths in a fake graveyard and then at a house in Shaughnessy where nobody was left except crew dismantling the set.

I finally caught up with Alcatraz on West Pender Street at an abandoned bank building turned into Doc’s Comics and Collectibles , where I photographed Sarah Jones walking through the front door several times, with Jorge Garcia inside. That evening I photographed Jones walking through the front door of The Blarney Stone turned Ray’s Bar in Gastown several times, again with Garcia inside. My one (failed) photograph of Garcia outside looks like he’s still time-travelling on Lost. I never did see Sam Neill or any of the prisoners or wardens, which included local actor Ian Tracey (DaVinci’s Inquest/Intelligence), because Alcatraz spent the rest of the pilot here filming prison scenes in studio or out at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam. And then Alcatraz re-located to San Francisco to film some key scenes at the actual prison and other local landmarks.

NBC — unlike FOX — is expected to have several slots for new drama series, but it also has an overabundance of strong drama pilots, one of which is the buzz-worthy Battlestar Galactica reunion at Vancouver-filmed 17th Precinct, set in a world where magic rules over science.

And finally The CW, which has a history of filming almost all of its pilots and series in Vancouver, only sent two drama pilots to shoot here this year. The first called Heavenly is best known for exploding the windows out of Incendio in Gastown in late March and having its two leads, young attorney Lauren Cohan and angel Ben Aldridge, float above the Vancouver Art Gallery fountain a few days later in thrilling special effects. The second is The Secret Circle from showrunner Kevin Williamson (of Vampire Diaries and Scream movie fame) and stars Brittany Robertson, aka Lux from cancelled series Life Unexpected, which filmed here until last December.

It would be great if all five of these locally-filmed drama pilots got series pickups but the odds are against it. We”ll have to wait for the May upfronts to see what the networks decide.


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