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Object Lessons

17 Mar, 2007 By: John Latchem

Peter Krause in The Lost Room

On May 4, 1961, an event took place at the Sunshine Motel in New Mexico that tore a hole in reality, erasing Room 10, and everything in it, from existence. Soon after, objects from the room began to appear — everyday items rendered indestructible and imbued with new properties that have profound effects in the normal world. A comb can stop time; a glass eye can kill or heal with a simple thought.

And thus, viewers are thrust into the bizarre world of The Lost Room, the latest in a TV trend of shows that aren't overtly science-fiction but involve elements of mysticism injected into real-world settings.

“It's our universe, but these objects bend the rules,” said Christopher Leone, who co-wrote the program. “It's an insane idea at its core, but the fun is exploring how it plays out.”

Sci Fi Channel aired The Lost Room, over three nights this past December, and Lionsgate will release the miniseries April 3 as a $19.98 two-DVD set.

Leone and his writing partner, Laura Harkcom, had been working on a potential feature film about a boy whose glass eye gives him magical abilities, pulling him into a strange underground world. The concept didn't coalesce until a visit by Paul Workman, a friend from their days at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Workman and Leone worked in the school library and would have discussions about weird topics such as what would be the simplest superpower with the greatest effect.

“He had these ideas, like a motel room that could transport him anywhere,” Leone said. “Or a bus ticket that could transport you to the middle of nowhere.”

The reunion turned fruitful when they combined Workman's universe of strange powers with Leone's and Harkcom's movie concept. The inspired trio wrote pages of documents outlining their new idea and the rules of their new mythology.

“It sat on a shelf until our manager showed it to Sci Fi Channel, and they loved it and really helped develop it,” said Leone, who shares co-creator and co-executive producer credits with Harkcom and Workman on the miniseries.

The production began with the title Motel Man, an ambitious project billed as “The Twilight Zone” meets “The Fugitive.”

Filming took place in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, with a cast including Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under”), Julianna Marguiles (“ER”), Kevin Pollak (A Few Good Men), Elle Fanning, April Grace, Peter Jacobson, Roger Bart, Margaret Cho and Tim Guinee.

In the miniseries, a Pittsburgh detective named Joe Miller (Krause) finds a key that turns any door into a portal to Room 10, which can be used to transport to any other door in the world. The room resets itself after every use, removing anything that doesn't belong, including Joe's daughter, Anna (Fanning).

After she disappears, Joe frantically delves into a hidden underworld devoted to understanding and possessing the objects. He encounters a number of cabals, each with a different agenda, that compete to control the objects' power.

The show earned critical praise and a sizable online fan community, with detailed analyses on sites such as Wikipedia.org.

In its original airing, the miniseries averaged about 2 million households in the ratings — a relatively strong number for Sci Fi Channel programming. Sci Fi Channel will replay the miniseries in an April 25 marathon.

Collaborations between Lionsgate and Sci Fi Channel have become something of an annual event. The studios teamed for the 2004 miniseries 5ive Days to Midnight, and again for 2005's The Triangle, which became a top rental on DVD. Lionsgate also produces the new Sci Fi Channel series “The Dresden Files.”

Lionsgate and Sci Fi Channel are discussing the possibility of developing The Lost Room, into a regular series. Leone said such a sequel would proceed without Krause and the core cast of the miniseries, although some characters could return.

“The show ultimately is about the objects,” Leone said. “It's a pretty complete mythology.”

As for exactly what happened in Room 10 to disrupt reality and create the objects, Leone remains tight-lipped.

“That's something we're saving for the TV show,” he said.

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