Recently, a trailer for the ‘Aquaman’ pilot has been making its way around the internet. Ordered by the CW in 2006, the pilot starred Justin Hartley as Arthur “AC” Curry, Ving Rhames as McCaffery, and Lou Diamond Philips as Tom Curry. With such a great cast and positive feedback (the pilot is available on iTunes), many have wondered why the CW passed on the show. The year 2006 stuck out to me for a reason, and after doing some research, I think I know why ‘Aquaman’ was not picked up. The show was the victim of the WB/UPN merger.
For many years, WB and UPN struggled to find viewers. Since the networks were courting the same audience, a merger was announced in order to save jobs and to salvage executives’ reputations. According to CNNMoney.com, the “C” stands for CBS, the parent company of the UPN, and the “W” stands for Warner Brothers. Each company was to own and control 50% of the CW. In order to maintain the 50/50 split, each parent of the CW only got to keep half of its original programing, which is why at the end of the Spring TV season many WB and UPN shows were cancelled.
To create the Fall 2006 schedule, UPN and WB got to contribute equally at six hours each; any empty slots were filled with repeats or a movie. The UPN saved ‘Veronica Mars‘, ‘Friday Night Smackdown‘, ‘America’s Next Top Model‘, ‘Everybody Hates Chris‘, ‘All of Us‘, ‘Girlfriends‘, and ‘The Game‘ for the Fall lineup. All of these programs add up to six hours (FNS was two hours). The WB filled five hours with returning shows: ‘Smallville’, ’7th Heaven’, ‘One Tree Hill’, ‘Supernatural’, and ‘The Gilmore Girls’. They saved the last hour for a new show. ‘Aquaman’ was competing with many shows for one slot. The CW decided to pick up two dramas, one for the Fall and the other as a mid-season replacement. The Fall slot went to’Runaway’ starring Donnie Wahlberg, and the mid-season show was ‘Hidden Palms’ from Kevin Williamson, producer of ‘Dawson’s Creek’. In 2006, these choices made sense; people were upset about the cancellation of ‘Everwood’, so replacing the show with something similar seemed the logical decision.
I didn’t watch ‘Runaway’ or ‘Hidden Palms’. Not very many did because neither show is still on the air. Why didn’t the new CW take ‘Aquaman’ off the shelf and give it a try, at least as a mid-season replacement? Probably because of cost. Shot on location in Miami, Florida, ‘Aquaman’ would have required a lot of special effects. AC is in the water a lot. He has to be because Aquaman draws his power from water. Also one of the characters is a Navy pilot. Since she, Lt. Rachel Torres, is recruited to be part of a task force to investigate Atlantis, one could conclude that shots of her in a fighter jet could have been cut. But there would have been more creatures from the deep to animate or render effects for, so in the chaos of the formation of a new network and the pressure to make money ASAP, ‘Aquaman’ was probably considered too expensive to produce in 2006.
Is the ‘Aquaman’ pilot worthy of any discussion? Yes. The episode establishes the story well. Arthur Curry knows he’s adopted, but he doesn’t know that he’s Orin, Prince of Atlantis. He lives in Tempest Key, FL, still obsessed over how his mother vanished ten years ago. According to his dad, Tom, AC is wasting his potential; he needs to stop getting arrested for freeing dolphins from amusement parks and go to college. However, AC is starting to feel as though something is happening to him. He can hold his breath for long periods of time and swim really fast, but he tells his friend and business partner Eva that he felt the dolphins call to him. After being attacked by a siren, he listens and believes McCaffery when he tells him about his past. Together they kill the siren who is after AC, possibly the same siren who killed or captured his mom.
The moment that impressed me in the pilot was at the end. AC and McCaffery are at the beach. They are discussing AC’s training. AC is eager to get started, and McCaffery gives him his first lesson—a copy of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’, Parts 1 and 2. AC is to have the plays read in a week. This moment sets up the tone for the rest of the season. AC’s training is not going to be quick, and his mind and body need to be trained. And the assignment fits.’Henry IV’ is about how a young, seemingly reckless boy becomes a great man, a responsible prince, and a beloved king. The scene is well-crafted and acted. Justin Hartley holds his own against Ving Rhames, who did not phone in his performance for this pilot. You can see that the relationship between them is forming: the wise mentor and the smart-alecky young buck. Many stories have centered on this type of relationship, and ‘Aquaman’ had the potential to become one of them.
‘Aquaman’ is filled with interesting characters, good special effects, and enough questions that would have kept viewers tuning in. Is AC’s mom still alive? What is Atlantis like? Is the purpose of the government’s task force one of peace or something sinister? Why are the beings of Atlantis taking humans? Will Arthur be able to protect both worlds? I wonder which direction the writers were going to take the series. Were they going to stick to the comic book or were they planning to go the ‘Smallville’ route and put their own spin on the source material?
Either way, I know this show has the potential to be unique and fill the needs of a segment of the television audience. I say “has” because the pilot has aged well; in fact, it looks better than some of the pilots I have seen this season.
Justin Hartley went on to co-star in ‘Smallville’, and if you’ve seen any of his scenes with Tom Welling, then you know Hartley has the charisma and talent to carry a series. ‘Smallville’ is over, so Hartley is done with that, and I I don’t know what Ving Rhames and Lou Diamond Philips are up too, but could someone please make this show? I really would rather be watching a new season of ‘Aquaman’ instead of wondering what could have been.