To recap POLARITY was pitched as a modern day version of the WONDER TWINS. Two friends (later brothers) who are polar opposites in personality. Through an accident (or was it?) they are granted polar opposite superpowers as well. The catch - the accident has also made it impossible for them to leave each others side. Move more than 100 yards away from each other, and they weaken and die.
I had already developed quite a bit more than that one pager when I successfully pitch Polarity to the CN. I had a fully flushed out world, supporting cast, sample episodes and series arcs. I did more work based on CN's notes, writing treatments, then a draft of the pilot.
I'm know I'm kind of skipping to the end here, but I figure I can always go back and fill in the middle.
Long story short, they liked what I did, but towards the end there was talk of bringing in an experienced show runner. Quite frankly, I wasn't surprised or bothered - I'd never written on staff for a TV show, let alone run one. I appreciated the opportunity I had to give it by best shot, and to refine my craft on their dime.
I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't have liked to have a shot at rewriting the pilot. But I'd a) like to think that a 2nd or 3rd draft may have changed their mind, b) I would have wound up with a better writing sample, and c) most importantly, I think the process of rewriting a network show would have made me a better writer, sooner. (Or is that a bitter writer, sooner. I kid - Cartoon Network and the folks I worked with were great).
Before I was told there would be another writer (there never was), I was asked not to do another draft but to come up with some different takes. Essentially, they loved the concept, but they wanted a different dynamic than two friends that had drifted apart in high school over one's love of comics and the other's desire to put that behind him (something I could relate to).
Below are the three different takes I came up with:
Herc and Zeph are newly minted step-brothers, in a mixed-raced blended family. Herc is the perfect scholar athlete, and Zeph, the cool kid who has better things to do with his time than school. The two are not only forced to live together when Zeph’s mom marries Herc’s dad, they have to move to a new town so their scientist mom can be closer to her work, a solar cell factory. (Note: the fact they are step brother eliminates the need for their powers to have a proximity rule, since this alone will keep them together when they don’t want to be. This hopefully simplifies the rules that define how their powers work).
They know they hate each other from the start, and being forced to go to a new school together, let alone live in the same house together, is driving them crazy. In an attempt to bring the two kids together, their MOM pulls them out of school for Take-Your-Kids-to-Work day.
What THEY don’t know is that Zeph mom is that their mom’s solar panel factory is just a cover for a top secret military program. While they are supposed to stay in the cafeteria, Zeph wanders off. Herc follows, intent on making a good impression on his new step-mom, and afraid Zeph will get them both in trouble. They discover that solar plant conceals a “Project Cadmus” type operation. The government is trying to create a a SUPER-SOLDIER to counter the growing number super-humans. When a cute, 18 year old FEMALE SOLDIER steps into the POLARITY CHAMBER, she is able to fight a captured super-villain or renegade super-hero by gaining their OPPOSITE POWER. The effect is not long lasting, but does last long enough to get the job done.
Of course that’s not what happen when TWO PEOPLE step in the chamber at the SAME TIME. Zeph impulsively decides to try it for himself, and Herc tries to stop them. They’re both locked in THE CHAMBER, which gives them permanent, short bursts of opposite powers while binding them together.
They fight, destroy the facility and with it the government’s only way to counter the growing superhuman threat.
Zeph wants to keep his powers – they’re fun, while the more responsible Herc wants to be rid of them and return to his normal life. Either way they want to be rid of each other.
But while that might be their ultimate goal, they have a responsibility to stop super-villains until Zeph’s mom can rebuild the chamber – a problem they brought on by themselves. They are reminded of this responsibility by the only witness to their transformation, the female soldier who was the first test subject for the chamber. While she feels cheated out of becoming America’s first super-soldier, she agrees to both guide them and keep their secret.
The latter hits close to home, because Zeph’s MOM, in addition to rebuilding the chamber, is assigned to track these two new “heroes” down. It’s up to this unlikely, and seemingly unqualified step-brothers to take down the supervillains, all the while trying to keep their identities secret – not only from their enemies, but from their family as well.
In this take, Herc and Zeph are two kids who just rub each other the wrong way. Herc is the perfect scholar athlete, while Zeph is the cool kid who has better things to do with his time than school. They’d probably get into fistfights in school just because they’re opposites, but when you add DEENA, a GIRL they both like enough to fight over, to the mix, coming to blows is an inevitability.
When they fight over who gets to be Deena’s lab partner in chem, they are instead assigned by her father - their SCIENCE TEACHER - to be LAB PARTNERS with each other.
Because of their bickering, they blow experiment after experiment and are forced to stay after school to complete their lab work. They fight, and as a result wind up trashing the lab and stumbling upon their teacher’s secret.
Their Science Teacher is a former mad scientist now trying to live life on the straight and narrow. But he’s being blackmailed by a LEGION OF DOOM type organization of SUPER-VILLAINS into creating the POLARITY FORMULA for them. The formula is meant to counter superhero’s powers when one person takes it. But when two are doused in it simultaneously, it gives them opposite powers while binding the together.
When the science teacher can’t give his blackmailers the POLARITY FORMULA since his lab was destroyed, the SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS arrive in town to find the formula, even if it means draining our heroes of their lifeblood to extract the only remaining sample.
Zeph wants to keep their powers – they are fun, and can be used to impress Deena. The more responsible Herc wants to return to his normal life – he thinks he can impress her with his good looks and good grades. Either way they want to be rid of each other. But while their ultimate goal is to get it out of their system, they have a responsibility to stop the super-villains who have descended on the town first.
They are given guidance by their teacher. Even though he wants them away from his daughter, he knows he has a responsibility of his own. Hiding out as a teacher isn’t enough to make up for his mad scientist past. It’s up to him to help our heroes
put the Society of Supervillains out of business for good.
Herc and Zeph. Two kids from feuding families, the Ramseys and the Flynns – this world’s Montague and Capulets, a modern day version of the Hatfields and McCoys. Once part of the same family, they split a couple generations ago over control over the town’s largest employer RAMSEY PHARMACEUTICALS.
Herc is from the well-to-do Ramseys, while Zeph hails from the down-on-their-luck Flynn’s. Herc tries to stand out from his rich relatives by working at the chemical plant even though he doesn’t have to. Zeph tries to stand out from his criminal cousins by staying on the straight and narrow. But neither of them know that about the other – they can’t see past the stereotypes. To Zeph, Herc is just a spoiled brat. To Herc, Zeph is just a bad seed from the wrong side of the tracks.
One night, Zeph is pressured by his UNCLE, the town’s CRIME BOSS, to break into RAMSEY pharmaceuticals and steal what is rightly theirs – the POLARITY FORMULA. Invented by Zeph’s great-grand dad…it’s the secret to the Ramsey fortune. Zeph doesn’t want to do it, but he’s worried his struggling family won’t be able to eat if he doesn’t.
On the night of the break-in, Zeph evades the ROBOT SECURITY GUARDS only to find out Herc is working the late shift at the factory. They get into a fight, and FALL INTO A VAT of the formula.
The POLARITY FORMULA was designed to counter superheroes’ powers when one person takes it. But when two are doused in it simultaneously, it gives them opposite powers while binding the together. Herc and Zeph get opposite powers, have to stay within a mile of each other etc.
Their super-powered fight wrecks the factory and destroys the only sample of the formula. Herc would turn Zeph into his cops, but he learns a deadly family secret. His GRANDFATHER has been selling this formula to SUPER-VILLAINS. The two of them have to team up to fight the super-villains, who return to their town jonesing for more of the formula.
Herc wants to be rid of his powers, Zeph wants to keep them. Zeph thinks Herc only wants to get the Polarity Formula out of his system so that Ramsey Pharmaceuticals can stay in business, keeping his corrupt family rich. In reality, Herc wants to be rid of the evil he now knows his family helped create. Herc thinks Zeph wants to keep his powers so he can be a supervillain himself, continuing to steal for his no-good family. Instead, Zeph want to keep them so he can change what his family name has come to stand for, and make up for breaking into the factory himself – becoming what he hated.
Regardless, they want to be rid of each other, and that’s their ultimate goal. But they realize they have a responsibility to stop the villains first. Moreover, our heroes’ lives are at stake. The villains realize that the only remaining sample of the Polarity formula is IN THEIR BLOOD, and don’t care if draining it from the costs Herc and Zeph their lives.
I particularly liked "THE PROJECT". I particularly liked the idea of doing a mixed-race, blended family, and a kick-ass mom character. Not something you see done on TV, let alone for boys. I would have loved for one of the HEROES to be a girl...but demographically CN believed that wouldn't work (and they evidently had focus group info to back that up).
The truth is, I liked all three. Forcing me to come up with three new takes at first seemed like a slap in the face - "hey, your pilot sucked so bad we want you to start from scratch". But after making many small changes throughout the development process, having to radically rethink the concept recharged me creatively. It's a bitter sweet feeling that I felt like I was really hitting my stride right before POLARITY was killed.
What ultimately killed it was not the content. There was regime change at CN, and with it, a new mandate. They wanted Live Action shows (of course, what else would you expect to find on the CARTOON Network). That brought us back to the same problem we had when we pitched it to Disney...this was not a show that the execs believed could be done at the time in live action.
Hope springs eternal, though. GROUNDED started out as a screenplay I wrote in 2001 (actually, the ideas date farther back than that), and I had to wait until 2005 for it to become a comic. That wait seemed interminable, but the end result was worth it, not just because Paul Azaceta turned my vision into something no director could, but because it launched both our careers in comics. More important than what that would mean for me in terms of work, it also made me realize that, no matter what other mediums I may write for, comics was a place that I wanted to stay.
POLARITY may be dead at Cartoon Network in 2008, but I believe that you'll see it at some point, in some way. At the very least, you'll see some of the ideas in my work (not just the ideas I've shown here, but the many, many ones that are in documents too long to post). Again, the idea of two siblings/heroes (from a mixed-race, blended family) with opposite powers and personalities, physically forced to be together in both heroics and life...I think those elements are too strong not to work SOMEWHERE.
My only fear is that by posting my ideas they'll show up in SOMEONE ELSE'S work. That's the risk of posting, but I feel if I'm going to have a blog, I need to give readers a reason to read them. Sharing stuff like this, that you won't find elsewhere (unless you are in the industry, where I'm sure my script has been passed around).
If you'd like to read more about Polarity, or any of my other work (published or not), write me here.