Dinosaurs are science, right? Therefore, an EMFB (English Major From Birth) has no business loving these lumbering lizards. But there, in that alliteration, is the key. I was in love with the language of dinosaurs. All based in Latin, the names of the dinosaurs, and what those names meant, became one of my earliest mantras.
I knew they had been dangerous, back in their day, but I never had nightmares about them when I was growing up. I knew they were extinct, and therefore, they were just interesting. I loved the ones that looked just similar enough to animals I knew about that they seemed familiar the instant I saw them in books. Ankylosaurus, the “fused lizard” whose armored, spiked squat turtlish frame was accented by a strong, clublike tail that could be employed to fend off aggressors…Triceratops, “three-horned face,” whose horns its contemporary cousin, the rhinoceros, would surely have envied…Velociraptor, a “speedy thief” cousin of the “tyrant lizard king” Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I also loved the dino design quirks: Giant bodies, tiny brains. Avian and reptilian, sometimes at the same time. Big dangerous T-rex with menacing teeth…tiny little hands. There was something inherently comedic about these beasts, trying to co-exist peacefully, or more accurately, trying to live another day without becoming part of someone else's dinner.
Over the millennia of their domain, there were five mass extinctions. And after each extinction, new species of dinos arose. Dinos 2.0. Then 3.0…There are some who maintain that, had the dinosaurs not been obliterated by one or several major geologic events (some conjectured causes include comets, asteroids, supernovas, volcanic activity, and an extreme greenhouse effect), we might be living with these thunder lizards, side by side, today.
In fact, this summarizes the plot of a new two-hour movie called Anonymous Rex, which could become an ongoing series, coming from SciFi. From the entertainment newsletter Cynopsis.com (and I quote):
Sci Fi Channel has cast Daniel Baldwin and Sam Trammel in a two-hour original movie (also to be used as a pilot) called Anonymous Rex. The story is based on Eric Garcia's futurist mystery novels Casual Rex wherein dinosaurs evolve into human sized creatures and roam the Earth disguised as humans. Anonymous Rex focuses on two dinosaur/human partners who are high tech private eyes. Production is set to begin later on this month in Toronto.
While conceptually not all that different from the 1980s alien paranoia shows V or Alien Nation (I forget which one had the cops in it), there’s something baffling about this premise. And what’s most impossible to understand is how any Hollywood exec saw fit to pitch and greenlight this project. The exec was either a) high, or b) someone who was so new to the business that she trusted her advisors and didn’t really want to get bogged down in the implementation.
In an assumption that it was more b) than a), here’s a re-enactment of a conversation that never happened between me as the head of SciFi Channel, being pitched and my creative execs:
CURTAIN RISES ON AN OFFICE IN HOLLYWOOD. IT’S A DECENT SIZE OFFICE, BUT THE WINDOWS PROVIDE NO VIEW EXCEPT A SEA OF SUVs IN THE PARKING LOT. AT THE MEETING ARE THREE PEOPLE IN BUSINESS ATTIRE. ESTHER, THE ATTRACTIVE AND POWERFUL, YET QUIRKY AND HILARIOUS STUDIO CHIEF, SITS BEHIND THE DESK. AT HER RIGHT, CHARLIE THE P.A. SITS WITH A STENO PAD, AND TAKES NOTES FURIOUSLY THROUGHOUT THE PROCEEDINGS. THE RINGING PHONES PROVIDE A CONSTANT, BACKGROUND MURMUR. THE EXECS, JIM AND MAGGIE, ARE PREPARED FOR THEIR PITCH, BUT KNOW THAT THEIRS IS A HARD SELL, SO THEY ATTEMPT TO COUNTER THE DIFFICULTY WITH ENTHUSIASM.
Jim: So, the film is called Anonymous Rex, and the plot is that T-Rexes never died out…in fact, they live among us.
Esther: Umm, wouldn’t I have noticed? It would explain a lot of the blind dates I’ve been on, but still…
Maggie: Oh, but you see, that’s the beauty of it! They’re masquerading as humans.
Esther: Oh. Okay. Wait—what?
Maggie: Yes, it’s kind of like Mulder’s theory about the aliens, that they’re here and waiting to take over the planet, except instead of aliens, they’re refugees from Jurassic Park.
Esther: Interesting. And by interesting, I mean crazy.
Jim: Not so much crazy as visionary…it’s a what-if scenario.
Esther: What if you leave my office and come back when you’ve got a decent idea for a television show? [laughs as others are disoriented] I’m kidding, of course. But I still don’t get it—our audience is already nerdier than any other network’s, and this show premise doesn’t even make any sense!
Jim: Our studio needs to take a chance. As the most recent in a long line of studio chiefs, you need to take a chance, and show some vision. Take a chance!
Esther: Thanks for the ABBA song in my head, Jim.
Maggie: [ignoring her and continuing the pitch] Most scientists agree that there were at least five mass extinctions of the dinosaurs, caused by catastrophic natural events like a meteor shower, an ice age, something. But what if those events had never occurred? There’s every reason to believe that dinos would have adapted to their changing environments. Just as the primordial ooze evolved over thousands of years into the life forms that would become known as dinosaurs, dinosaurs would have evolved in size, temperament and intelligence.
Esther: So you’re saying that if they had but time, velociraptors would have become stockbrokers, apatosaurs would study for their MBAs and T-Rexes would have become lawyers?
Jim: Private eyes.
Esther: Dammit, Jim—ABBA wasn’t bad enough? You had to give me Hall and Oates now? What the hell do you mean, private eyes?
Execs: The T-Rexes are private eyes.
Esther: Oh god. Why?
Execs: What do you mean, why?
Esther: T-Rexes are private eyes. Meaning like if a guy thinks his wife is cheating on him, he calls a T-Rex? Wait, that actually makes sense. I’d imagine a T-Rex would be very persuasive, what with all the teeth.
Jim & Maggie: [muttering] well, yes—
Esther: But they’re not the most subtle of beasts. Nor are they terribly stealthy, I might add. If I were having my husband followed, I’d want something slyer, something that could outwit him…would sneak up on him, pounce [she makes everyone jump] and eviscerate him…yeah…like… a raptor.
Execs: [silent. They’re a little scared now.]
Esther: But that’s only if I were having my husband followed. [beat] Which of course I’m not. [beat] Really, I’m not. [beat] But you see my point!
Maggie: [looks at Jim questioningly, he nods, she responds]: Ummm. Yes.
Esther: [looking at her memo on the subject] So you’ve cast Daniel Baldwin? Which Baldwin is he? The one from The Usual Suspects? Or from that horrendous Cindy Crawford movie?
P.A.: Fair Game.
Esther: Ooh, Fair Game. That was the hot Baldwin…
Maggie: Actually, Usual Suspects was Stephen and Fair Game was Billy. Daniel wasn’t in either of those movies.
Esther: There’s another Baldwin brother? Is there an infinite supply of Baldwins being manufactured in a Taiwanese factory? Or maybe they’re Mogwai, and someone got them wet and fed them after midnight…
Jim: Umm, maybe…
Esther: Stop humoring me. [turns to laptop and types in imdb.com. screen pops up, she types “Daniel Baldwin” and waits. A screen pops up, she reads it to herself and says:] Oh, he’s the puffy one. I must have missed his star-making turn as “Vet #1 at the Democratic Convention” in Born on the Fourth of July. Oh, Homicide. I think I saw that once. Or was it Murder One? I can’t remember anything before Law & Order took over. Crap. OK, Daniel Baldwin, got it, moving on. I have some questions.
Esther: I’m still not clear—what does a T-Rex do in Los Angeles?
Maggie: Well, he opens a detective agency with his friend, played by the incomparable Sam Trammell.
Esther: [turns to computer, checks IMDB again] You’re kidding, right? There’s nothing on his resume that I’ve ever heard of.
Jim: You’ll have to trust us. He’s really good. My father-in-law saw him do Willy Loman in dinner theater in Miami.
Esther: [rolls eyes] I think my dentist has played Willy Loman in dinner theater in Miami.
Maggie: [beat] Well, we’ve got him, he’s signed on and we’ve already begun pre-production in Prague.
Esther: Prague. Why pick Prague for pre-production, other than the boundless joy of alliteration?
Jim: Well, it’s much cheaper than trying to film near the Staples Center, which is where the detective agency is located.
Esther: Oh. So instead of Los Angeles, we’re going to film in Eastern Europe. This makes sense.
Jim: Actually, I checked with accounting and it’s much more cost-effective. With the money we save we’ll actually be able to bribe Nielsen families to watch it!
Esther: That’s the first piece of good news I’ve heard about this project. But Charlie, do me a favor…check into Canada as an alternate location. My great grandparents barely escaped from Prague. I’m not shlepping all the way back there to film a drama about Jurassic P.I.s unless I absolutely have to…
Charlie: [makes notes] Check into Canada. Got it.
Esther: Does he have a wife? Is that role cast yet?
Maggie: Well, now that Sex and the City is over, we’ve called Kim Catrall’s agent. We figure if anyone can take on a T-Rex, it’s the former Samantha Jones.
Esther: You should have consulted with me first. I would have advised going for Sharon Stone. She’d give a T-Rex a run for its money. But I guess that’s done, too.
Maggie: Yeah. Look, trust me on the casting. Kim’s right for the part. After her roles in Porky’s and Star Trek 2—
Esther: --you’re right, Maggie. She’s got a built-in fan base among our nerd demographic.
Jim [uncomfortable]: Ok, so let’s move on. How are you on the plot?
Esther: Oh, you mean “dinosaurs are alive, have evolved into humanoid form and are working as private investigators in Los ‘Doesn’t this look like Poland’ Angeles?
Esther: [beat] sounds good to me. Just one thing: Are there enough thespian T-Rexes on either coast to make this work? And will they work for scale?
Jim: We’re working on that now.
Esther: I’ll bet. And find out what kind of cars they drive. I don’t want a bunch of Hummers in our lot. We had enough trouble the last time the Governator was here. I’ve got an idea: Contact Prius. Once we have those gas/electric hybrids zooming around Canada—
Charlie: [cuts her off, reminding her]: Or Prague…
Esther: Or Prague [glares at Charlie], we’ll have the attention of Cameron, Leo and Sting… our pitch could be: “why drive a dinosaur?”
Charlie: [taking notes furiously] Cameron…Sting…dinosaur. Got it.
Esther: Is there anything else?
Jim: We just need your signature on this.
Esther: What is it?
Maggie: It absolves us of any responsibility for the failure— [Jim smacks her in the arm] — or success of this show.
Esther: I’ve never had to sign anything like this before…
Jim: Think of it as your “Jerry Maguire” treatise, that you’re tired of studio execs not taking risks and that—to hell with that!—you’re taking a chance on something a little off-center. SciFi’s fans will thank you for it.
Esther: They ought to thank me! For approving groundbreaking programming like this…
Maggie: That’s right—you’re the visionary…a hero for women everywhere…
Esther: Yeah! Cool. [beat as she looks around]. Anyone want to get high?
[EVERYONE ELSE NODS, PUTS THEIR PAPERS AWAY AND GOES TO CLOSE THE SHADES. THEY LIGHT UP A DOOBIE AND PASS IT AROUND, EVERYONE TAKES A HIT. ESTHER’S THE LAST TO DRAG. AS SHE EXHALES…]
Esther: Hey, wasn’t Jerry Maguire fired?