CSIS goes to Hollywood
A new American pilot, Underfunded, will feature a Canuck spy who outwits his CIA counterpart
SHANDA DEZIEL | Nov 24, 2005
There's a new TV pilot being developed in Hollywood about the Canadian secret service and it's called . . . Underfunded. Sure, it's a great punchline -- but can it actually work as a show? There is, of course, no secret service in Canada as it's defined in the U.S. While we have Mounties who work security detail for the PM and other dignitaries, this show will be about an organization such as CSIS. "It's the Kmart version of the CIA," says co-creator Ross Abrash. "But at the heart of the show, we have a Canadian character who's so bright and determined, he's able to outwit the more funded and respected agencies and win the day." Abrash(a writer for The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson)and David Breckman(a producer of Monk)sold the idea to the USA Network and will shoot the pilot in Vancouver in January -- with the hope of premiering it in the summer.
It's common knowledge that U.S. audiences want characters they can relate to, i.e. Americans. So while Underfunded's hero, Daryl Freehorn, will be an employee of the Canadian secret service, he will be set up in a Washington satellite office -- and spend most of his time travelling internationally, working alongside spies from the CIA or Britain's MI5.(The writers acknowledge they are taking creative licence, since Canadian intelligence doesn't actually have an international presence.)"A guy that is going to be working on some of the same missions is a gentleman named Matt Sykes, who works for the CIA," says Breckman. "Sykes has unlimited funds and resources, which our guy doesn't. Daryl will have to use his ingenuity, but at the end of every mission Sykes will usurp the credit."
It seems a win-win situation for CSIS itself -- a positive portrayal of individual agents, and an argument, come budget time, that it needs more funds to improve the organization's international reputation. "A U.S. show about Canadian spies?" asks CSIS spokeswoman Barbara Campion, who upon hearing the title laughs, "Oh God, okay -- well, we could always use more money and more resources."
From the looks of it, Underfunded is one of the more original ideas out there. Most of the other recently announced pilots are adaptations and spinoffs. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is based on the Linda Hamilton character from The Terminator films. The series is supposed to take place between the second and third movies, and will focus on the mother-son relationship -- less action, more drama and character study. Meanwhile, it's unlikely that the TV version of Blade will stray far from the guns-and-gore formula that turned it into a three-picture hit. The relatively unknown cast is already set -- and stepping into Wesley Snipes's long leather coat is Kirk Jones(also known as rapper Sticky Fingaz).
Television's most in-demand character these days is Aquaman -- who surfaced in the summer on the HBO comedy Entourage. The show's movie star main character, Vincent Chase, grudgingly took on the unitard-wearing superhero role in a James Cameron-directed feature film. Then the DC comic character found his way to Smallville as a buddy for Clark Kent and love interest for Lois Lane. Now Smallville's producers are giving the ocean protector his own show on the WB.
Over at HBO, recent series Carnivàle, Deadwood and Rome haven't exactly brought out the same fervour in critics and audiences as The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. So for the upcoming year, the cable channel will rely on two twisted geniuses to deliver buzz-able new series. Six Feet Under's Alan Ball has announced his next project with HBO will be based on the Southern Vampire novels of Charlaine Harris. Filled with black humour, they feature a telepathic young woman, Sookie Stackhouse, who falls for a vampire. The series will be set in the present, but in a world where vampires have come out of the coffin, so to speak -- they openly walk among humans(albeit only at night), drink synthetic blood and discuss their "condition" on Oprah.
Upping the dark factor for HBO will be a David Cronenberg-directed series based on Dead Ringers, his 1988 movie about twin gynecologists starring Jeremy Irons. The popularity of Nip/Tuck proves audiences are into gross and invasive, but it's hard to imagine watching dramatized gynecological procedures every week. But how about getting Clive Owen to play the twin brothers? He's got the creepy/sexy thing down pat. And that would free up Irons to play a no-nonsense head of CSIS -- should Underfunded come knocking.
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