Imagine that the agents on "The X-Files," instead of trying to track down aliens and other paranormal happenings, were instead assigned to battle outbreaks of killer diseases.
What you'd end up with is "The Burning Zone," which debuts tonight on UPN (9 p.m., Ch. 14).The show is a blatant attempt to build off the success of "The X-Files." (UPN keeps mentioning that Fox show in all of its advertising for "The Burning Zone.")
But "The Burning Zone" is far less satisfying for science fiction fans - and far less believable, believe it or not.
The pilot looks something like a cross between "Mission: Impossible" and the movie "Outbreak." Our here is Dr. Edward Marcase (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a brilliant 29-year-old virologist. After surviving a bout with the Ebola virus as a child (really!), he has dedicated his life to fighting disease.
He's also sort of a pain-in-the-neck egomaniac.
He's teamed with Dr. Kimberly Shiroma (Tamalyn Tomita of "The Joy Luck Club"), another brilliant doctor. She blames Edward for the death of her fiance.
And the third member of the team is Michael Hailey (James Black), whose past as a CIA operative comes in handy in terms of security and whatnot.
Their first case goes beyond science fiction, however, into the realm of ridiculous fantasy.
In a scene seemingly inspired by Indiana Jones, three archaeologists release a virus from 10,000 years of captivity. This is no ordinary virus, however - these bugs have a collective conscience. They invade a human body and take it over, subduing the individual's will to their own desires.
(I am not making this up.)
So, not only are our heroes battling a virus - they're battling humans controlled by that virus.
As you might have guessed, "The Burning Zone" is often a lot funnier than it's intended to be.
Oh, die-hard sci-fi fans with nothing better to do with their time may enjoy it - as long as they don't expect much.
"The Burning Zone" is not, however, a show for the entire family. There's a good deal of violence here, from guys being burned to death to shootings to hand-to-hand combat.
Not to mention the guys bleeding out of their eye sockets when they're taken over by that mean ol' virus.
Maybe "The Burning Zone" will settle down into something less ridiculous after the pilot. But the fact that the characters and much of the dialogue seem like bad soap opera is not a good sign.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But imitations this bad can only be an insult to "The X-Files" and its fans.
"INK" STAINS: As expected, CBS has delayed the debut of the Ted Danson-Mary Steenburgen sitcom "Ink," hired a new executive producer and scrapped all the episodes made to date.
As we discussed here last week, the show - while certainly not awful - was not real good, either. As a result, the stars (who are also executive producers), the studio (DreamWorks) and CBS have decided to bring in "Murphy Brown" creator Diane English to add some much-needed luster to what is supposed to be a jewel in CBS's rebuilding crown.
(English's own recent history, however, is spotty. After the triumph of "Murphy Brown" came the mediocre, inconsistent "Love & War" and bombs like "Double Rush" and "The Louie Show.")
The show will remain about a divorced couple who both work for a struggling New York City newspaper. But the changes will delay the debut of "Ink" from Sept. 16 until Oct. 21.
(CBS will air the first five episodes of "Pearl" on Mondays at 7:30 p.m. beginning Sept. 16. The sitcom - which stars Danson's former "Cheers" co-star, Rhea Perlman, and Steenburgen's former husband, Malcolm McDowell - will move to Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 23.)
The revamping of "Ink" is rather unusual for a show that has yet to make it on the air. And scrapping four already-produced episodes is no small expense - it will cost CBS and DreamWorks, which will split the costs, millions of dollars.
But, on the other hand, assuming that English can fix the show and turn it into a hit, it could make both the studio and the network (not to mention English, Danson and Steenburgen) an awful lot of money in the long run.
And network television would be a considerably different place if only shows that were actually good enough to go on the air actually made it on the air.
(Of course, that would leave an awful lot of networks broadcasting test patterns throughout much of the week.)