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Sci-fi drama 'Terra Nova' debuts Monday

Having Steven Spielberg as executive producer on a new Fox show attracts attention. Then when the network announces it's giving the show the "Glee" treatment and airing the pilot in May, expectations get a rocket boost.

But computer-generated dinosaurs only grow so fast, so the science-fiction drama "Terra Nova" actually premieres at 8 p.m. Monday. Fox invited writers to see a cut of the first hour of the two-hour pilot, and the special effects weren't quite done. Another viewing of a re-edited first hour weeks later revealed the effects still weren't quite done.

With any luck, "Terra Nova" will hatch just in time for Monday, but executive producer Brannon Braga (with him and Spielberg, about 12 people have executive producer credits) says they're moving right along.

"Terra Nova" (or "New Earth/Land/Ground" in Latin) begins in 2149, when the planet is blighted and overcrowded. Scientists discover a fracture in time, connecting the present with the age of dinosaurs.

So "pilgrimages" of humans and equipment are sent through the rift to establish a colony in the distant past in hopes of saving humanity and having a second chance for a better civilization.

But since the new land has the same old human beings, you can imagine how well that goes.

"Just because we're aspiring to do better this time," says Braga, "doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to work out the way they want it to."

Jason O'Mara ("Life on Mars") stars as Chicago police detective Jim Shannon, who busts out of the prison he was sent to because he and his wife, Dr. Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn), broke their society's two-child rule.

Elisabeth is recruited for the Tenth Pilgrimage, and Jim risks it all to get himself, her, their teenagers (Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott) and their youngest daughter (Alana Mansour) through the rift.

Once there, he meets the colony's imposing leader, Cmdr. Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang), a lot of hostile (and nonhostile) prehistoric creatures and shockingly clean air.

But there are issues with the neighbors, some pilgrims who seem to have a different agenda. Soon Taylor must call on Jim's law enforcement skills to battle foes both animal and human.

"We were racing across the roofs of Terra Nova last night," says the Irish-born O'Mara, calling in from the show's location in Australia, "and then jumping from the roofs. I'm a little stiff this morning, but I've been training for it and happy to do it."

As for Jim's relationship with Taylor, O'Mara says, "We wanted to create a kind of Butch and Sundance thing, regardless of any age differences. We just wanted to tell a story about two guys who've come together with a similar cause.

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