You’re talking to your friendly next-door neighbor when he answers a call on a bizarre shaped cell phone. He quickly dismisses himself because he has to save the world. You’re neighbor is part of the Global Frequency an elite rescue team with 1,001 members many who live quiet and relaxed lives until they’re needed. This is the world Warren Ellis created in “Global Frequency,” a twelve-issue mini-series published by DC Comics/Wildstorm. Soon, the world Ellis created will be moving from four-color pages to television screens. The WB Network has commissioned a pilot for “Global Frequency”; a television series based on the comic, as a possible mid-season replacement. CBR News recently talked with John Rogers, a Writer/Executive Producer on the show who also wrote the pilot and Gregory Noveck, DC Comics’ Senior Vice President of Media Development and Creative Affairs about the “Global Frequency” pilot and potential series.
One of the biggest names in television was responsible for the development of “Global Frequency” as a television series. “Basically Mark Burnett, who is the creator of ‘Survivor’ and ‘The Apprentice,’ made a deal with Warner Brothers television,” Noveck told CBR News. “Warner Brothers television was looking for properties for him. Somewhere in the mix he came across ‘Global Frequency’ and they put it together and brought in John Rogers. I think John was already a fan of it actually. Basically it was one of those things that came together. They sold it to the WB when everyone realized what a great comic it was and what an excellent writer and sort of team it makes with Mark and John Rogers.”
Rogers knows what it’s like translating comic book characters to other mediums. He has written for both television and feature films, and was one of many writers that worked on this summer’s “Catwoman” film. He’s also a long time comic book fan. He told CBR News where to look for him in the middle of the week. “Meltdown Comics [in Hollywood], every Wednesday, you can find me buying books and bitching about the industry,” Rogers told CBR News.
When Rogers heard that one of his favorite comic books was being developed as a pilot he knew he had to be involved. “Friends of mine were representing it as a feature project, when Warner Bros. relocated it to the TV side. Now, I started in TV, I just hadn’t done it for a while, focusing on features. I was such a huge fan of the book; I went in hat in hand and asked if I could run it. Nicely enough, the presentation I gave answered some very specific issues they’d faced in developing the show. Combined with my genial crankiness and experience adapting comics with some small success, it seemed like a safe bet to let me take a run at it,” Rogers said.
“Global Frequency” is Burnett’s first drama and if the enthusiasm he inspires in his co-workers is any indication it will be just as successful as his reality programs. “Mark’s a fascinating guy,” said Rogers. “Ex-military, so he really got both text and subtext in the script and book. One of the great things is that as a . . .well, really ‘the’ reality guy, he isn’t jaded about scriptwriting. He still sees it as a bit of alchemy, filling an empty page, and I’ve never had someone who had more right to give me notes give me fewer.”
There were two essential elements in the “Global Frequency” comics that the production staff believes are essential for the series to work. “The comic has a real kinetic and global feel,” said Noveck. “The things that they tackle have to be dealt with right away . . . High stakes . . . World peril. I think these things are very important to maintain. That every episode there is something seriously high stakes that is out of the ordinary that only a committed group of individuals with very specific skill sets will be able to tackle. Additionally, I think that is what’s great about the comic as well. There’s a great sense of individuality with all the comic people not only with the regular characters but with the people that are then brought into the fold with whatever the issue is. Whether it’s a bike messenger who has the unique ability to make it cross-town in two minutes or some sort of nuclear physicist with knowledge of rare isotopes. It’s important to maintain that kind of individuality,” Noveck said.
Rogers agreed with Noveck’s assessments. “When push comes to shove, ‘Global Frequency’ is about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. It’s about sacrifice. Until you boil a book down to its message and its heart, you can’t do a good job. You wind up with something which has all the visual trappings but entirely misses the point of what made the book interesting.”
Rogers noted that “Global Frequency’s” unique rotating cast of characters made the comic difficult to translate to television. “Well, that was problem one. Television audiences develop relationships with likes and dislikes about the characters on a show, not the ‘tone’ or stories. Having all different protagonists every week, that’s a fundamentally flawed concept in American television at least.”
The core concept of “Global Frequency” is faithful to the comic. The main characters of the book, team founder Miranda Zero and mission coordinator Aleph, are in the show along with two new characters. “Miranda’s quantum-cool as only Warren can make characters,” said Rogers. “In a truly insider note, comic reader/viewers will probably spot that I’ve shaded her a bit more toward Jenny Sparks than Miranda. But Miranda is a super-spy, and there are plenty of super-spies on TV. We’ve introduced two characters, ‘talented amateurs,’ who’ll be Miranda’s operatives out there on a permanent basis. They’re our Mulder and Scully, although a little rougher around the edges, with a lot more drinking and gunplay. Their dynamic is set up to allow us to cover the widest range of stories, from the gritty crime stuff to the low-level sci-fi — I prefer to say ‘speculative fiction,’ because we’re never going that far out, just like the book. When Miranda zips in, it’s because whatever we’re dealing with that week is very, very bad. Aleph is in every episode. She really popped in the script, and she serves as a great quirky voice for the show.
“After our two leads, we will have a rotating guest cast. This is for two reasons. First, like I said, the show at its gut is about sacrifice, and the courage of the ordinary. It’s the first wish-fulfillment spy show, the only one where we, the audience, actually could be recruited to save the world. Those guest characters will never overshadow our leads, but they’re a crucial part of the show. And, second, I’m going to kill people. Saving the world is dangerous, and hard, and comes with a price. Look at British television, with those short little runs. They don’t care, so they make the boldest choices. The great warehouse scene in ‘Ultraviolet,’ that 2nd episode of ‘MI5,’ or even now with ‘The Sopranos’ on HBO … look how compelling TV is when you just don’t know what’s going to happen! On ‘Global Frequency’ with the guest characters, we can get you to care about people. Care about them, and make you worry that they’re not getting out of this — because sometimes they won’t. And don’t go thinking the regulars are safe either.”
In the comic, the agents of “Global Frequency” face a variety of threats everything from armed terrorists to bionic men. This is also true of the television series. According to Noveck, a good way to think of the show is “24” with elements from the earlier seasons of “The X-Files” “I think they have to retain the science fiction elements for it to be ‘Global Frequency’ of course,” said Noveck. “But they also have to make those science fiction elements relateable to an audience. So it will be sort of speculative science fiction without going completely out there and overboard or at least what a general audience might conceive as such.”
“[The threats will be] probably a little more grounded on the whole,” continued Rogers, “as a mainstream audience isn’t quite as familiar with some of the ideas Warren can throw around comfortably with a comics-trained audience. But we’re a genre show, make no mistake. The error some writers make when using sci-fi is that the sci-fi trappings become the goal. Sci-fi as a genre is just a tool to use to tell more interesting stories on a broader canvas. As soon as you forget that it’s just a wrench for storytelling and make it the point of the show, you’ve shagged it. Our director, Nelson McCormick, is an ex-combat cameraman who’s one of the best crime drama and cop show directors working in TV now. It’s going to be very grounded and gritty. Think ‘Se7en’ meets ‘Mothman Prophecies.’ In the code words, from one comic geek to the comic geeks out there reading this: ‘No neon.'”
The world depicted in the “Global Frequency” comic is filled with problems that often require an intense amount of violence to solve. A violent high action program does not usually occupy the typical 8:00 P.M. time slot. “I don’t know what the WB’s thinking,” said Noveck. “My assumption is they’re shooting a 9:00 show, just because that’s what it feels like to me. But I think it will depend on what their scheduling needs are.”
“I’d like an hour later, but we can go 8,” continued Rogers. “You can do a lot with implied horror. I think the series is going to focus on the spy/horror/sci-fi stuff rather than the straight action tone of some of the books. So, no, if your question is, ‘Will I see a man beaten to death with his own arm on ‘Global Frequency’ the TV show?’ Probably not.”
The producers of “Global Frequency” thought the best way to maintain Warren Ellis’s creative vision was to keep him informed and ask for his input. The notoriously outspoken comics creator was pleased with what he saw. “Warren saw the draft before anyone else,” said Rogers. “I was dreading his response. He was very happy with it — he almost seemed disappointed that I’d deprived him of another reason to hate television — and I’ve integrated every idea of his I can into both the pilot and the series. It all sticks pretty closely to the book, so it’s not too much of a challenge.”
Burnett and Rogers want as much input from Ellis as he wants to give. “He’s been pretty involved so far,” continued Noveck. “He’s read the scripts. He was pleasantly surprised to see that they hadn’t butchered his work. I don’t know if he’s going to write scripts as the show progresses, but I do know that John Rogers and Mark are big fans of Warren and they definitely want him around. They want him to know what the casting choices are. He’s not a producer on the show so they don’t have to do these things but they very much want to.”
Ellis and Burnett are both originally from England. When the two met they discovered they shared a common bond. “As it turns out, they didn’t know this, but Mark Burnett and Warren Ellis grew up like twenty miles from each other. So they’re fast friends now,” Noveck said.
The “Global Frequency” pilot is still in pre-production, but it’s rapidly moving forward. Rogers told CBR News that the pilot would shoot in Vancouver this August, allowing the production more prep time.
Rogers was reluctant to reveal too much of the pilot episode’s plot. “It’ll be a one-hour. The pilot plot — hmm, don’t want to ruin it. It’s close to the plot of the first book in the run. With some very funky, Ellis-approved twists. The pilot’s almost real-time. All the episodes will be stand-alone episodes. I love continuity-heavy shows as much as the next person. But my goal for ‘Global Frequency’ is for you to be able to sit down, never having seen a single other show in the run, and get hooked.”
The cast members for “Global Frequency” have not been announced, but casting has begun. Noveck believes heavy focus on the casting process began after Memorial Day. Some actors and actresses have seen Rogers’s pilot script. “I have met a few actors and actresses, come to think of it, who loved the script and wanted to chat about it and also recently became available within the last year … or two. You can do the math,” said Rogers.
There have been conflicting reports of whether “Global Frequency” is officially part of The WB line up. “It actually is conflicting because they are shooting the pilot,” explained Noveck. “I think they have every intention of making it a mid-season (replacement). I don’t think they’ve officially announced the pick up for the series, but with good luck and it all seems to be pointing that way. I don’t think they’ll announce anything till they start seeing footage from the pilot.”
In his “Bad Signal” newsletters Warren Ellis said that he had seen the budget for the “Global Frequency” pilot and was shocked. “Warren’s just shocked because he’s still burdened by a soul,” Rogers joked, “It’s just horribly expensive compared to, oh, say, feeding poor people or providing free health care to the sick. In TV terms, it’s right down the middle.”
The pilot episode is not yet complete, but Rogers and his staff already have plenty of story ideas for future episodes of “Global Frequency,” many of which come directly from the comics. “The free runner. Honest to God, Nelson’s been storyboarding that one since we started the process; he’s in love. But you know, the reason we focus in on that one, again, is not just because the visuals will be cool. Ordinary girl with one funky ability vs. the bad guys. Way in over her head, but willing to die to save others. That’s the guts of the show, right there. For the others? I favor the angel, actually, Miranda’s abduction, and the memetic invasion. We all want to do the ‘Aleph as agent’ issue, we just have to take the time to set it up properly. I’d love to do the bionic man. It’s just so subversive, and it would actually tie in a new character from the pilot. But we’ll see.”
Rogers recently met with a group of people that made him even more optimistic about the future of the “Global Frequency” television show. “The real interest we’ve had — and it’s been a lot of interest — is from writers,” said Rogers. “Some of the best writers in TV recently became available. Most swung by to talk about the show. Sadly I’ll lose a few because I’m going in mid-season, but if we get our pickup, I’ll be in the enviable position of an Executive Producer who’s a big fan of all the writers working for him.”