This week Neil Calloway looks at the 2011 Wonder Woman pilot…
This week sees the return of Wonder Woman to the big screen, the first time she’s appeared in her own live action project since the Lynda Carter fronted TV show ended in 1979. It wasn’t meant to be that way, though. Like other big name superhero projects, there have been other attempts to get Diana Prince on the screen.
One of those came in 2011, when NBC created a pilot TV show for Wonder Woman that, as happens with these things, was never picked up for a series or screened anywhere. Adrianne Palicki, who had appeared in an unsuccessful Aquaman pilot in 2007 and an episode of Smallville in 2004, but was probably best known for starring as Tyra Collette in the series Friday Night Lights, was cast in the lead role.
Pilots are greenlit, produced and scrapped without a second thought in Hollywood; a pre-24 Kiefer Sutherland starred in an LA Confidential TV pilot that finally saw the light of day in 2003, and in 2013 Ridley Scott directed The Vatican, the pilot for a canned series about an American Cardinal written by double Oscar nominee Paul Attanasio. Getting a pilot made is easy. Getting it screened is something else. Wonder Woman fell at that hurdle.
It was written and produced by David E Kelley, who had a background in quality network TV; as well as working on LA Law, he created Chicago Hope and other successful shows. In the run up to cameras rolling on the production there was a minor controversy about Wonder Woman’s costume, and in the finished show it was slightly changed from the one shown in the publicity photos, though that might have been more for practical reasons than anything (originally her leggings were latex, and in the show they seem a more flexible fabric). Lynda Carter gave the show her seal of approval.
The pilot itself isn’t great, but it has its moments – the enemy Wonder Woman is against is a pharmaceutical boss played by Liz Hurley. You can imagine Hurley’s excitement when her agent called saying that they wanted her for Wonder Woman, and her disappointment when she realised it wasn’t for the lead. Cary Elwes turns up as Diana Prince’s assistant and the show largely eschews the mythical background that Wonder Woman has elsewhere. There’s a nice self referential scene where in a board meeting, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman complains about an action figure of herself, saying she won’t market her tits.
Watching it now it seems dated, but it was probably dated in 2011; the pilot ends with Wonder Woman creating a facebook page for herself; not exactly hitting the zeitgeist since it was shot the year after The Social Network came out. A line where she is warned not to “Abu Ghraib her prey” would be good if that scandal hadn’t been exposed seven years previously. The romance subplot is a bit too much like Ally McBeal, another show Kelley created.
Despite the project not being picked up, it hasn’t put Palicki off a career in superheroes and comics; she starred in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Mockingbird, and last year she also co-wrote No Angel, a well received comic book with her brother, the writer Eric Palicki.
In a Facebook Live interview earlier this year, Palicki stated that the show came too early; before the Marvel TV shows, and Gotham and Arrow took off. In truth, it was probably a case of bad timing and being produced by a team that didn’t have a background in the genre; Kelley’s only previous connection to the DC Universe comes from being married to Catwoman (actually Michelle Pfeiffer). It was both dated, in terms of content, and ahead of its time in concept. We didn’t really lose anything by it not being commissioned into a series.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.