CBS has placed an order for a pilot episode for Andy Weir’s TV show concept, titled Mission Control. The pilot episode reunites team members from the movie The Martian, including Andy Weir as an executive producer. The action for this new project centers around the Mission Control of the near future as they juggle their personal lives and a critical mission with very little margin for error.
Andy Weir is expected to bring his proven ability to make “hard” science fiction accessible and fun to Mission Control. However, one should keep in mind that most TV show concepts don’t make it to the television screen even when they’ve been picked up as a pilot. If the pilot is rejected, the TV show rarely gets a second chance. Stories that include Star Trek‘s success after the first pilot was rejected for being “too cerebral” and a second pilot was ordered are rare.
Putting The Science Back In Science Fiction
With examples like Star Wars and Doctor Who, it’s easy to argue that just because it’s set in outer space or has time travel doesn’t mean it’s science fiction. “Hard” science fiction that includes solid scientific theory or projections of what might be scientifically possible may be difficult to sell to audiences, however, because it can be dry, slow-paced or incomprehensible to audiences.
Andy Weir changes things by making science one of the characters with solid “Man vs. Nature” type stories like The Martian. He might take the occasional liberty such as a dust storm that would be physically impossible on Mars, but he also includes the idea that the moving parts and materials of any hardware component can wear out and turn the airlock into a projectile with the astronaut inside. He doesn’t need the additional drama of having an unrealistic prima donna astronaut character when scientific theories and engineering principles provide all the challenges he needs.
CBS is unlikely to ignore the box office earnings of the movie version The Martian, which came close to setting opening-weekend records for October at $55 million and grossed more than $640 million in the worldwide theatrical market. What matters most, though, is whether CBS executives think there is a market for a show like Mission Control and whether the writers can keep the science realistic while still creating excellent stories with just the right amount of drama to attract viewers.
Aren’t TV Pilots Expensive?
Sure they are. The pilot for Fox’s Lock and Key is said to have cost $10 million, and one of the concerns with the original Star Trek pilot was that it was so expensive to make. The idea that some of the better pilots could be aired as “Made For TV” specials has been floated for the sake of making some kind of return on investment. However, the problem with this idea is that some pilots are so terrible that the studio rejected them out of a fear of being embarrassed. Studios put up with the expense because it’s a way to see what a typical episode for the proposed TV show would look like and a chance to get some feedback from its target audience through test viewings.
What this means for Andy Weir’s Mission Control is that CBS is taking a chance by funding a pilot episode, but it’s a chance that could pay off if the series is greenlighted for regular production and it can reach viewers. (And, yes, if CBS doesn’t sabotage it by sticking it in the worst time slot ever like NBC tried to do to Star Trek.) So, as they say in TV Land, stay tuned for possible good news from CBS.