Cancelled Before It Began: The Time Tunnel (2002)

By | August 19, 2016

Our ongoing look back at sci fi / fantasy TV shows that were cancelled way too soon or pilots that never made it to series.

time-tunnel-2002-pilotThis 2002 pilot was a remake of the Irwin Allen series that ran for one season in the late sixties, and like the Sci Fi Channel’s reboot of Battlestar: Galactica which would bow a year later, the new Time Tunnel had a darker, grittier feel than the campy original. The pilot establishes that an experiment with “hot fusion” created a “time storm” that swept through the past for a duration of 240 minutes and has changed the time stream. In the altered present, we see such minor to more significant changes as red and green being switched on traffic lights, the U.S. having only 49 states, and the Russians having won the race to the moon. A team is assembled to go back into the past wherever the time storm currently resides and undo changes that have been detected. The pilot establishes a much more interesting twist on the original premise and delivers a pretty good science fiction story as well. It rushes past most of the exposition expected from an initial episode and fills in the blanks on the fly, which is a good approach. It also throws in some poignant moments with the lead characters interacting with people in the past and having to make hard decisions not to further impact the time stream. And even though it sets up an ongoing series, the episode can stand by itself as an excellent genre tale. A conspiracy element is introduced early on, but the pilot did not appear to be taking the approach of setting up a serialized story that would layer mystery upon mystery (that would come in vogue with sci fi shows after Lost became an unexpected hit in 2004). It looked more like the series would follow an episodic format that would have been linked together by a background story arc, similar to the early approach of The X-Files. As with any movie or TV series dealing with time travel, it does break some of its own temporal rules, but not to the same extant as some of the sloppier productions in this sub-genre.  Time travel has always presented plenty of challenges to writers and this pilot seems to handle it better than most.  FOX passed on the series, allegedly because they decided to greenlight another science fiction show titled Firefly. But then seeing the fate of that one, there’s a good chance the Time Tunnel would not have survived past its first season either. The same creative staff later worked with the Sci Fi Channel during the 2005-06 timeframe in a second attempt to reboot the property, but that never made it past the script stage (IMDb.com incorrectly lists the 2002 pilot with a 2006 date, apparently linking it to the later efforts to bring back the show). The pilot episode is available as an extra from the second volume of the original series DVD set, and you can also catch it at YouTube at this link (the quality on the latter is not great, though). I highly recommend checking it out because this is a great start to what could have been a classic sci fi series if given the chance, and it also stands up well on its own.

Aired: Never Aired

Developed By: Kevin Burns, Jon Jashni

Starring: David Conrad, Dion Luther, Andrea Roth, Tawny Cypress

Buy the Original Time Tunnel on DVD from Amazon.com:

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