Among basic cable networks, Sci Fi Channel is the most aggressive about adding original scripted series to its prime-time lineup. Those efforts have resulted in a mixed bag: From the excellent "Farscape" (9 p.m. Fridays) to the dismal "Lexx" and "Secret Adventures of Jules Verne."
"Invisible Man" falls somewhere between the extremes as does the network's newest series, "The Chronicle" (9 p.m. Saturday).
Originally titled "News from the Edge" and produced as a pilot for NBC, "The Chronicle" mixes "X-Files" sleuthing with "Men in Black" humor. That makes it similar to UPN's "Special Unit 2," though it's certainly better than "SU2" in its first episode. But like "SU2," the hybrid style of comedy and drama in "The Chronicle" doesn't quite jell. There's potential, but it hasn't been realized.
College journalist extraordinaire Tucker Burns (Chad Willett) finds himself jobless and desperate after a mistake scuttles his fast-track professional career upon graduation from Columbia. His girlfriend wants him to get a job, and Tucker lowers himself to apply for a position at the World Chronicle, a tabloid of the Weekly World News variety.
Headlines scream ("Mothman held captive at medical lab"), stories percolate ("Reincarnation of Mother Theresa, line one," says a receptionist, transferring a call), and a guy with a pig's snout (Curtis Armstrong from the "Revenge of the Nerds" movies and "Moonlighting") works in the paper's archives.
Tucker gets an interview with editor-in-chief Donald Stern (Jon Polito, "Homicide: Life on the Street"), who likes the kid in spite of his track record. Tucker gets the job, but he's uneasy about it. After all, this is a junky tabloid, right?
Nope. Reports in the Chronicle are all true. The stories are often about creatures, like the Brooklyn Bloodsucker that Tucker investigates as his first assignment.
With the aid of photographer Wes (Reno Wilson) and fellow reporter Grace (Rena Sofer), Tucker begins to understand just what kind of a wacky operation he's gotten himself into.
Grace started writing for the paper after her sixth alien abduction. Her most recent article? An interview with the anti-Christ, but it didn't go well. "He was full of crap and wouldn't answer my questions," she says. "And he tried to feel me up."
Another Chronicle employee, one with psychic powers, announces at a staff meeting that the end of the world will arrive Saturday. Editor Stern is displeased.
"How many times do I have to tell you?" Stern says. "Predict stuff that will happen after we hit newsstands."
As Tucker, Willett is fine but no stand out. He plays the requisite all-American guy who's fallen from grace. Willett's first regular series role was the space program drama "The Cape" (1996-1997), an ambitious syndicated series that deserved to last longer than a single season. Willett was more believably cast as an aspiring astronaut; he's a little too much of a pretty boy to be a journalist.
Polito is actually the most notable performer in "The Chronicle." Usually cast in roles that call for a good bit of screaming, Polito's editor is surprisingly un-gruff.
Created by Silvio Horta ("Urban Legend"), the first episode of "The Chronicle" has amusing moments and a nice twist near the end, but how long can the concept hold up? With a good dose of creativity and a decent amount of character development, the show might improve. But if each week the humor is only derived from weird headlines in the newspaper, "The Chronicle" won't break any new ground.
Writers also need to get a better grasp on the world of working journalists. No self-respecting newspaper writer would type "The End" at the conclusion of a story. Copy editing symbols (-30- or ) maybe, but newspaper articles aren't fairy tales, although given the Chronicle's pedigree, maybe it's appropriate.
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