Tim Minear has developed a reputation in the television industry for being an extraordinarily talented writer-producer with extraordinarily bad luck. After stints on The X-Files and Angel, Minear helped launch Firefly and Wonderfalls heralded, high-concept programs that succumbed to premature deaths. Luck seemed to shift his way in 2005. That's when Fox paired him with writer Ben Queen to produce Drive, a Lost-esque crypto-drama about a diverse group of ordinary folks who either by choice or by force compete in an illegal cross-country car race with a shady history and a $32 million jackpot. Minear dug the premise: He saw Drive as a storytelling machine, and within each vehicle he envisioned a world of possibilities. ''A car can be funny,'' he says. ''A car can be sad. A car can be scary. Or fast, or slow, or ironic every one of them could have a different tone but exist in the same world.'' His bottom-line summary: Drive is ''two parts Cannonball Run and one part The Game,'' the reality-blurring 1997 thriller starring Michael Douglas. ''And four parts Magnolia, too.''
Racing against time to get the show ready for Fox's 2006 -07 season, Minear and Queen produced an ambitious pilot last summer. It began with a continuous, four-minute shot utilizing cutting-edge F/X seen in Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds that introduced the 12 main characters by zooming in and out of their vehicles. As it would be too expensive and too complicated to take the actors on the road and shoot them in moving cars, most of the driving was filmed against a greenscreen, ''which was great, because I suffer from terrible motion sickness,'' says star Kristin Lehman (Judging Amy), who plays Corinna, a secretive woman whose parents were killed in the race 28 years ago.
Drive seemed to be cruising. But then karma slammed on the brakes. ''The network decided they could save time by canceling me before ever picking me up,'' says Minear. Yet the premise had its admirers at Fox, and in October, Minear was asked to revamp Drive with a mostly new cast; Lehman remains, and Firefly's Nathan Fillion (recently seen as Kate's cop husband in Lost) steps in for Ivan Sergei as male lead Alex, a landscaper searching for his missing wife. Minear and Queen rewrote much of the pilot to more clearly establish why each character entered the race. And that epic opening sequence? Now just a minute. Yet Lehman promises the stop-start sputter to the small screen will ultimately prove worth the trouble: ''We've had time to fine-tune it. That's a luxury most shows don't really have.'' Jeff Jensen