Brian's Burn Notice: New fall epics Last Resort, Revolution put the money on screen

by Brian Burns
If there’s one word to take from fall’s new crop of television shows, it is epic.  The major networks are attempting to compete with multimillion-dollar budgets of cable hits like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead with their own high-concept and high-cost programming.
These attempts to complement story with state-of-the-art effects and sets prove that the networks are finally taking risks again.

Revolution, airing Mondays at 10 p.m., represents NBC’s latest effort to cultivate a Lost-style phenomenon.  The show, produced by J.J. Abrams, depicts the near future after a global blackout and the fall of the U.S. government.
Once her brother is captured by a rogue militia, the spunky, crossbow-wielding heroine Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) teams with her swashbuckling uncle (played by Twilight’s Billy Burke) to bring the world back into the light.
Its hero’s journey storyline, said to be inspired by The Lord of the Rings, is well worn from years of use in popular fiction.  Nevertheless, Revolution has the spark needed to make the age-old story feel new again.
The opening hour, directed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, employs impressive digital effects to depict the destruction of the initial blackout and create memorable images such as a Wrigley Field buried in plantlife.
“It could appeal to the Walking Dead audience, with its post-apocalyptic setting,” said sophomore Bryan Buchanan.
The technical wizardry on display is enhanced by some intriguing questions suggested by the premise.
“I’ve always wondered what would happen if we lost all the technology that we’re so dependent on,” said senior Kelly Peck.
It appears NBC’s bet on big-budget programming paid off, as the premiere of Revolution set a ratings record for the network with over 10 million viewers.  It has already been renewed for a full season.
Incredibly enough, Revolution is not even the most ambitious project in the fall schedule, nor is it the most controversial.
Last Resort, from the creator of the police drama The Shield, centers on a U.S. submarine crew that turns its back on the government after being ordered to start World War III.  Left for dead, the crew, which includes Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman, sets up its own nuclear nation on an island in the Pacific Ocean.
With that plot, Last Resort is already unlike anything else on television.  There is also no shortage of special effects onscreen, with nuclear missiles, underwater shots and exotic locales galore. However, viewers might already be rejecting such a radical departure from the typical primetime fare.  The heroes, after all, are technically traitors to the U.S. government.  Evidence of Last Resort’s divisive nature could be seen in the show’s ratings.  Unlike Revolution, Last Resort is struggling to find an audience to dazzle.
Some viewers appreciate the high concepts and slowly unraveling mythology of shows such as Revolution and Last Resort, which are different from the typical cop and doctor programs usually found on the major networks.
“It’s fun to figure all the mysteries out,” said sophomore Robert Dietze, a fan of such sci-fi and fantasy shows as Once Upon a Time and Terra Nova.
Once Upon a Time is still going strong in its second season.  Sadly, Terra Nova, which revolved around the lives of a family from the future in the prehistoric past, was canceled after a mere 11 episodes due to budget concerns over the computer-generated dinosaurs. The same fate could easily befall the newest additions to the fall lineup, which are more likely to get the axe than more inexpensive shows..
The tendency of networks to go big does not show signs of stopping.  On the horizon is ABC’s live action S.H.I.E.L.D. series, set in the world of the hit superhero movie The Avengers.
“[A bigger budget] just guarantees they’ll get canceled after they run out of money,” said Dietze.
A cautionary tale can be seen in NBC’s pilot for Mockingbird Lane, a potential reboot of the ‘60s series The Munsters.  With a budget that ballooned to more than $10 million, the effects-heavy gothic fantasy was not picked up as a series after airing as a  special the Friday before Halloween.
There is always the temptation to associate bigger with better in the world of television, with HBO productions like Boardwalk Empire often matching the sizable budgets and ambitions of full-length movies.  However, studio executives should keep in mind a rule of thumb: the bigger the budget, the harder they fall.