Take a bestselling young adult novel series set in a dystopian world, adapt it for the screen, and watch the magic happen, right?
Wrong in the case of Fox's pilot for Delirium, based on Lauren Oliver's hit book trilogy. Last year, the network ordered a pilot starring Emma Roberts (American Horror Story: Coven), Daren Kagasoff (The Secret Life of the American Teenager), and Billy Campbell (The Killing), but when it came time to issue greenlights, Fox ended up passing on it in favor of Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human.
Almost all rejected pilots never see the light of day, but Delirium is airing on Hulu for the next few weeks thanks to WIGS. The online studio started out on YouTube and has expanded, producing popular series like Blue with Julia Stiles. WIGS co-founder Rodrigo Garcia also directed the Delirium pilot.
"I always thought it was a shoo-in to become a series, and it didn't. Things don't become series for different reasons; it's never one thing," he told Give Me My Remote.
What were those different reasons? Considering the success of The Hunger Games and other dystopian YA novels, you'd think Delirium would've been a slam dunk for Fox. So, we watched the pilot to see why the network might've passed on it. Here are three possible reasons why:
1. It's too young for Fox.
Fox covets younger viewers in that all-important 18-49 range, and its programming reflects that. For the 2013-14 season, it tied CBS for second in that demographic.
But Delirium feels a little too young. The main character and many supporting characters are 17, and the core of the story is about first love. The show seems like a better fit for The CW or ABC Family. In fact, several of the actors on Delirium were previously seen on the latter cable channel, including Kagasoff and Jeanine Mason on Bunheads.
After the splash Sleepy Hollow made last fall, Fox probably made the right decision for its lineup.
2. The casting isn't quite right.
We love Roberts, but she isn't quite right as Delirium's lead. Lena should light up before our eyes as she goes from an emotionless life to one of passionate love. Roberts is better being too cool for school or a snarky queen bee.
Kagasoff comes off as creepy and stalker-ish rather than sexy and mysterious. And aside from Campbell (who really needs to be on a show, stat), none of the other supporting actors made much of an impression on us.
3. The story may not work for television.
Perhaps these YA book series are better off as movies (see: The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, and The Giver). The pilot essentially covers the entirety of Oliver's first book; that's a lot of ground to cover in one episode.
Delirium felt rushed and compacted; there was no time to get to know any of the characters other than Lena (and even she was barely more than a sketch). Ideally, we'd have two hours or so to really delve into this world and get attached to these people.
And it's hard to imagine what Delirium's first season would've covered had the series gotten the greenlight. Try to picture The Hunger Games as a TV show, with the pilot ending after Katniss and Peeta's victory. Where could the show go after that?
Would Delirium simply have drawn out plotlines from books two and three? Or strayed from the novels completely?
We'll never know, and maybe, it's better that way.