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The Boston Globe
November 6, 1994, Sunday, City Edition: Television Week; Pg. 6.

In search of a sci-fi 'franchise'

by Bruce McCabe, Globe Staff

Can " Earth 2, " NBC's new one-hour sci-fi series (which premieres tonight at 7 on Channel 4), transcend its status as a show or a series and become a "franchise"?

Its executive producer and creator, Michael Duggan, says that's what co-producers Amblin Television and Universal Television want to know - and that's why the network is rolling it out now, at a time when both sci-fi and hour long dramas are entering another hot cycle.

"You're looking for a franchise, one that lends itself to merchandising," he said on the telephone from Los Angeles. "I've done 'St. Elsewhere' and I've done 'Miami Vice' but lawyer shows or cop shows or hospital shows don't lend themselves to merchandising. They're real-life shows. They don't lend themselvesto, say, a ride in an amusement park.

When you're creating a new show on behalf of Steven Spielberg's production company and the studio that owns the Universal theme parks, you have to think in up-to-the-minute marketing terms.

Nonetheless, Duggan says the provenance of the new show is sound. "It's 'Wagon Train' on another planet," he says, alluding to the network's successful dramatic Western series (1957-'61) about families moving to settle the new frontier. The series starred Ward Bond and Robert Horton.

" Earth 2" is set 200 years in the future, when the population of the depleted Earth is forced to live aboard a gigantic orbiting space station. One woman (Debrah Farentino, of "Equal Justice" and "NYPD Blue") organizes a covert mission to colonize a distant, Earth-like planet that she feels might offer a new beginning for all humankind. Costarring with Farentino are Antonio Sabato, Jr. ("General Hospital") and Clancy Brown ("Highlander").

"Our hope is that what differentiates us from other sci-fi shows is that we're out of the militaristic realm," Duggan said. "Like the original pioneers who settled the West, this is a group of people who are thrust together with varied backgrounds and agendas. They're seeking a better life for their own reasons."

Duggan says a sci-fi series, like any dramatic series, needs good characters with rich "back stories" to propel the plot. "Since we're 200 years in the future, we had to create our own history. We had to create our own technological advances. We also have created an indigenous species, an alien culture, which is very important to a show of this kind. But the prime ingredient is a story viewers can identify with. This has to be a world you'd like to live in. Almost equally important, every aspect of it has to reflect another planet in another time."

To keep things topical, real and human, Duggan says, Farentino has been given a physically impaired son who, like others aboard the space station, will die if he can't find a home outside the station's artificial environment.