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A CHRONICLE of oddities

The latest Sci-Fi Channel original series mixes the eeriness of THE X-FILES with the quirkiness of NORTHERN EXPOSURE

By J. Rentilly     July 13, 2001

In a world of tabloid journalism, the staff of THE CHRONICLE seeks the truth (Reno Wilson, Curtis Armstrong, Chad Willett and Rena Sofer)
© 2001 Sci Fi

Everyone knows that the truth is out there, but this summer the truth will really be out there thanks to Sci-Fi Channel's new hour-long weekly series, THE CHRONICLE a giddy hybrid of horror, science-fiction, and comedy set at a tabloid newspaper that has an uncanny knack for sniffing out bizarro stories that just happen to be true. To provide a few examples, the world of THE CHRONICLE includes real dragons that live in the sewers of Chinatown; a real underground tumor monster killing people with cellular telephones, and a real oven that sucks people into an alternate universe populated by their own worst fears.

"I really wanted to do a horror/sci-fi show for television," says THE CHRONICLE writer/creator Silvio Horta, who also penned the original URBAN LEGENDS. "But everything that's out in those genres is dour and depressing. I thought we could have some fun with it. The stories you read in WEEKLY WORLD NEWS are all true it's a great premise."

Investigating the supernatural goings-on of THE CHRONICLE's hometown are ace reporter and former alien abductee Grace Antonelli (MELROSE PLACE's Rena Sofer), rebellious young newsie Tucker Burns (JACK & JILL's Chad Willet), streetwise photographer Wes Freewald (THE HOOP LIFE's Reno Wilson), and tough-as-nails editor Donald Stern (Coen Brothers veteran Jon Polito). Oh, and don't forget basement-relegated archivist and computer wizard Pig Boy, played by MOONLIGHTING's Curtis Armstrong.

Relegated to the basement is THE CHRONICLE's mysterious archivist, Pig Boy

"This guy has a snout and pointy ears, and we have no reason why as of yet," comments Armstrong. "But he is a pig, particularly to the female staff members, and he does look like a pig, for whatever reason. In many ways, he is a logical extension of every character I've ever played."

Due to the typical network backbiting associated with almost every new series, NBC passed on THE CHRONICLE after expressing interest enough to develop a series pilot. Luckily, the Sci-Fi Channel was there to pick up the pieces.

"I wrote the pilot for NBC," says Horta. "They ordered a presentation a half-hour sample of what we could do. They liked it and then ordered six episodes for midseason (2000-2001). But big corporate financial wrangling happened. Fox owns the show and wanted NBC to commit to 12 shows, but NBC didn't want to commit to more than six. So they pulled the plug on us. But that freed us up to go to Sci-Fi and the folks there have been absolutely amazing."

So interested in the series they were that the Sci-Fi Channel produced reshoots of the pilot, as well as 12 episodes which have been set for a Saturday, July 14, 2001 premiere.

Of course, this can be attributed to THE CHRONICLE's unique blending of genre entertainment and witty humor a proven home run in ratings thanks to shows like STARGATE SG-1. However, Horta is quick to admit that masterminding the balance of oddball comic elements and genuine thrills and chills is a formidable challenge.

THE CHRONICLE's Tucker and Wes on a "routine" assignment

"It is a really tricky tone," says Horta. "The scary stuff needs to be really scary or you lose your jaded audience, but the comedy stuff should be really fun, too. The show is completely out there, but also I hope completely real."

Polito who describes his character of THE CHRONICLE's editor as "a modern, funky Perry White" says, "The show is always just one step away from reality. It takes place in the supernatural world right next door, maybe buried under your neighbor's lawn, shall we say."

Making the production of each episode easier, Horta and crew have the solid backing of experts in the scholarly study of urban legends. These individuals believe that audiences are more ready than ever for this type of programming. Redman Lucas Wells, proprietor of Australia's Urban Legends Research Centre, goes so far as to admit that urban legends and supernatural stories provide spiritual enlightenment and moral guidance in an era that discredits religion, dragons, and sorcery as merely fanciful.

"These are tales in which the facts are strange, the events incredible, but the details of which nonetheless seem possible and therefore believable," says Wells. "Shows like THE X-FILES succeed because they are just plausible enough."

After being abducted by aliens, THE CHRONICLE's Grace is used to being in their company

N.E. Genge, author of THE AS COMPLETE AS ONE COULD BE GUIDE TO MODERN MYTHS AND URBAN LEGENDS, seconds this thought adding that wonderment in the supernatural is a quality programmed into every human being.

"There are certain universal tales that are as much a part of being human as DNA," says Genge. "They fulfill a deep inchoate need for connection and faith in today's world. We want to believe we can slay vampires, talk to the dead, enter other dimensions it helps us be more than Everymen."

After rescuing the show from the aforementioned mire of contractual conflicts with NBC, Sci-Fi who is billing the show as MEN IN BLACK meets NORTHERN EXPOSURE has been very supportive.

"We don't have a BUFFY budget," admits Horta, who oversees the show's rapid-fire production schedule from his North Hollywood office. "So we have to do everything the old-fashioned way with good characters, great acting, and witty stories. Sci-Fi really encourages us to be subversive. We've pitched stories that my writing staff thought was way outside, and the network's, like, 'Why don't we take it just a little bit further?' It's been a dream."

Regardless of how the show fares with genre fans, Horta, who is currently co-writing the psychological thriller BLOODY MARY with horror maestro Clive Barker, claims to have written an additional two-dozen stories episodes.

Tucker and Grace are THE CHRONICLE's equivalent to Woodward and Bernstein

"We could, theoretically, tell stories forever," says Horta. "We take the germs of the stories right out of the tabloids, and then make them real by attaching them to the human qualities of our characters. I mean, I don't have any five-year master plan like Chris Carter says he did, but I do know where all of this is going."

Expect ghosts, demons, gateways to hell, an explanation of Pig Boy's peculiar porcine condition not to mention his Jules Verne meets Rube Goldberg computer system and a season finale that expands on Grace's alien abduction and introduces a master alien monster, "a mutant E.T. thing," according to Polito.

"But it's all done without being maudlin or angst-ridden," promises Horta. "The fun is tipping all of that over. This is the anti-X-FILES."


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