"It's analogous to the western movement and settling of this continent in the 19th century," Duggan said by telephone Wednesday from the set near Santa Fe, N.M. "When we met with executives at (Steven Spielberg's) Amblin Television, we were given the mission to create a sort of Wagon Train in outer space. "
The two-hour Earth 2 pilot succeeds beautifully at creating a space-age western, where horses and hostile Indians are replaced, respectively, by solar-powered Hummers and a bizarre, ground-burrowing telepathic race. Earth 2 avoids the predictable militaristic setting, English- speaking aliens and technology emphasis of most sci-fi shows.
As a result, the intelligent, involving and only briefly hokey pilot promises more smart adventure and drama for the series.
The show is set 200 years in the future, when the resources of Earth have been depleted and most people live in space stations.
When her son Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman) is afflicted with a strange illness always fatal in the sterile environment, wealthy Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino) finances a covert expedition to a distant Earth-like planet. Her plan is to start a colony for 250 families who will arrive later.
Despite a cocky space pilot (Antonio Sabato Jr.), the team crash-lands, destroying most of its high-tech equipment, on the wrong side of the planet. Devon must lead survivors across an unfamiliar wilderness.
The reluctant colonists include mechanic John Danziger (Clancy Brown), his pre-teen daughter True (J. Madison Wright), an inexperienced doctor (Jessica Steen from Homefront) and Yale (Sullivan Walker), a wise cyborg who looks after Ulysses.
They're also saddled with a scheming government liaison, Morgan (John Gegenhuber), and his wife, Bess (Rebecca Gayheart). Lost in Space fans will see echoes of Jonathan Harris' Dr. Smith in the nervous, selfish Morgan.
The pilot's special effects - from the rocketry to an E.T.-ish tiny alien - are spectacular, and parts of New Mexico look remarkably unearthly.
But Duggan said special effects will be minor on the series. It will primarily draw story lines from conflicts among the colonists and their interactions with a strange environment.
Remember, these are characters to whom blue skies, trees and even dirt are novel.
Many of the actors were drawn to Earth 2 because of the pioneer setting. "It's very unusual to see a female character who is so strong but also works from her femininity, her motherhood," said Farentino.
"All the women on the show are grounded in reality. It's rare to see that in TV drama, let alone sci-fi. "
Brown, son of former Ohio congressman Clarence J. Brown, liked that the show was not built around a "marital structure. There is no structure at all. And when we meet these creatures or have problems, we can't call on our communicators and find out what the bosses upstairs think. . . .
"It's simply survival, much like it was in the settling of America," the rock star- looking Brown said in an interview this summer. "And that brings with it a lot of moral and ethical issues.
If a species is threatening your child, are you justified in destroying that species, or should you let your child die? " Producers have drawn from pioneer diaries and clothing from the American West for inspiration for Earth 2' s story lines and design.
For Farentino, who had to be well-dressed as a lawyer in ABC's Equal Justice and as John Kelly's girlfriend on NYPD Blue, the back-to-basics costumes are a plus. They "sure beat pantyhose in a courtroom."