The series is initially set in A.D. 2149, when overpopulation and declining air quality threatens all life on Earth. When scientists discover a temporal rift permitting human transmission they initiate a series of "pilgrimages" to a parallel "time stream" resembling Earth's Cretaceous Period. The series focuses primarily on police officer James "Jim" Shannon, his wife Elisabeth, and their three children Josh, Maddy, and Zoë, as they join the colony there, named "Terra Nova" for "New Earth" or "New World" in Latin.
According to the story's premise, Elisabeth Shannon is chosen for her medical expertise, and her children with her. Her husband, imprisoned for violating population control by harbouring a third child and assaulting an official agent to protect his young daughter, stows away to join them, and eventually convinces the colony's leader, Commander Nathaniel Taylor, that his own police expertise is of use to the administration. The colony places nominal emphasis on environmental responsibility.
Opposing the colony and its leader Taylor, is a group of separatists known as the "Sixers", so called because they arrived in the "Sixth Pilgrimage", working in concert with corporate industrialists to strip the Cretaceous Earth of its resources and transmit them to 2149. It is later revealed that Commander Taylor's grown son, Lucas, is the mastermind of this operation. Toward the end of the series, Lucas perfects travel to and from the future; thus enabling the industrialists, with a private army called "The Phoenix Group", to invade Terra Nova. At the end of the series, Jim Shannon returns to 2149 to destroy the gateway permitting travel to the Cretaceous; whereupon the Phoenix Group retreat to the nearby "Badlands", leaving behind a wooden ship's figurehead apparently located there by another temporal rift.
Alex Graves signed on to direct the pilot.Brannon Braga and René Echevarria serve as showrunners. Australia was chosen after producer Steven Spielberg vetoed Hawaii because he wanted a different filming location from his 1993 film Jurassic Park. The two-hour pilot was filmed over 26 days in late November to December 2010. It was shot in south-east Queensland, Australia, with locations in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, and the Gold Coast Hinterland. The shoot was plagued by torrential rain and additional material had to be shot in 2011, with a total estimated cost of US$14 million to be amortized over the season. More than 250 sets were constructed. An episode took from eight to nine days to shoot, like most television dramas, but six weeks in post-production, twice the television average at the time. The average episode budget was about $4M, not including Australian tax breaks, compared to an average of $3M for broadcast network dramas. Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly stated: "This thing is going to be huge. It's going to take an enormous production commitment."
In an unusual decision, Fox skipped ordering just a pilot, and instead immediately ordered thirteen episodes. This was partly due to financial reasons, as the large Australian sets are expensive to dismantle and rebuild. Despite this decision, the producers denied the production was over-budget, with Peter Rice explaining instead the show is "a very expensive ... very ambitious television show". Kevin Reilly continued: "We're not in completely uncharted territory here. The start-up cost for the series is definitely on the high end. But it's not some bank-breaking series." With only 10% of Cretaceous-era dinosaurs recorded in the fossil record, the producers decided to supplement the series with plausible fictional species; palaeontologist Jack Horner was invited to create realistic creatures for the period and different from those of the Jurassic Park film franchise.
In June 2010, the first cast member was announced – Jason O'Mara as Jim Shannon. In late August, Allison Miller joined the cast; playing the role of Skye Tate. In September 2010, Deadline Hollywood reported that Stephen Lang, who played a similar character in the film Avatar in 2009, signed-on to play a leading role of Commander Taylor.
The cast and crew returned to Queensland, Australia on May 20, 2011 to continue production on the first season. Filming commenced on May 25, 2011. With a long production process on the series, it was announced in July 2011 that the first season would consist of thirteen episodes to finish airing in December 2011.
Many of the weapons used in the show were reworked and repainted Nerf blasters.
Shortly after the airing of the season one finale in December 2011, Fox Broadcasting stated that no decision would be made until 2012 regarding the continuation of the series. Fox announced the cancellation of Terra Nova on March 6, 2012. 20th Century Fox Television stated that it would try to sell the show to other networks.
Motion comic continuation
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment set up a "video mashup" website where purchasers of the DVD can create a motion comic continuing the series. As of December 30, 2013, the site is no longer active and redirects to Fox Movies.
Jason O'Mara as James "Jim" Shannon, a former Chicago Police narcotics detective. He is married to Elisabeth and is the father of their three children. After a lengthy imprisonment for breaking population-control laws in 2149, he escaped and rejoined his family in the Terra Nova colony, where he worked on the gardening division. After saving Commander Taylor from an assassination attempt, he joined Terra Nova's security forces, eventually becoming third-in-command of the colony.
Shelley Conn as Dr. Elisabeth Shannon, a trauma surgeon and chief medical officer of Terra Nova. She is married to Jim and is the mother of their three children. In the series premiere, she was instrumental in Jim's escape from prison and arrival in Terra Nova.
Landon Liboiron as Josh Shannon, Jim and Elisabeth's 17-year-old son. Reluctant to leave his girlfriend behind in 2149, he initially resented his father; but in later episodes they repair their relationship.
Naomi Scott as Maddy Shannon, Jim and Elisabeth's 16-year-old daughter. Intelligent but socially-clumsy, and depicted principally either as her mother's student or the love interest of Mark Reynolds, a young soldier.
Alana Mansour as Zoë Shannon, the five-year-old daughter of Jim and Elisabeth Shannon. Early in her life, she was kept hidden by her family, having been a third child and thus contravened the population control laws of 2149. When she was discovered, Jim was sent to prison. With the aid of a friend, Zoe was smuggled into Terra Nova and permitted to remain in the colony.
Christine Adams as Mira, the leader of the "Sixers", a rebel group that arrived with the Sixth Pilgrimage but who soon broke away to oppose Terra Nova and to prepare for the Phoenix Group's invasion. Mira's daughter, Sienna, is still in 2149 and is held by Mira's employers to ensure her cooperation. Mira's ambition is to return to 2149 and have a comfortable and peaceful life with her daughter.
Allison Miller as Skye Alexandria Tate, a veteran resident of Terra Nova from the Fifth Pilgrimage, and Josh's closest friend. Her parents reportedly died three years before the series begins, and she was subsequently adopted by Commander Taylor. She is later revealed to be a Sixer mole, being blackmailed by the Sixers who held her mother hostage and controlled the medicine which kept her alive.
Rod Hallett as Dr. Malcolm Wallace, the chief science officer for the Terra Nova colony. Early in the first season, it is revealed that he recruited Elisabeth for Terra Nova, having earlier had a romantic relationship with her, and he was hopeful that she would leave her husband in prison in 2149.
Stephen Lang as Commander Nathaniel Taylor, Terra Nova's head of state. Himself the first colonist, Taylor survived 118 days alone, helped build a community as new settlers arrived, and has been the colony's leader for seven years. When Skye's parents died, he became her legal guardian and father figure. Taylor's relationship with his son, Lucas, has degraded severely since an incident in 2138 in which Taylor was forced to sacrifice his wife to enemy fire. Lucas arrived in Terra Nova on the Second Pilgrimage, but plotted against his father to destroy the colony, and has since re-appeared as antagonist.
Caroline Brazier as Deborah Tate. Under the cover story that she died in a fever epidemic, she was abducted by the Sixers and held hostage to force her daughter Skye to spy on Taylor and the colonists. Later in the first season, she was rescued by the soldier Curran and returned to the colony.
Emelia Burns as Lieutenant Laura Reilly, a member of Terra Nova's security forces and an expert at defusing bombs.
Damien Garvey as Tom Boylan, a bartender and former soldier who occasionally trades with the Sixers. Often secretive and abrasive, he operates minor crime but proves loyal to Terra Nova when the Phoenix Group invades.
Dean Geyer as Private (later Corporal) Mark Reynolds, a soldier under Taylor's command and eventually the suitor of Maddy Shannon. He is a competent soldier and able survivalist, but often uncertain of his own position, and therefore formal, when interacting with Maddy and her father Jim.
Simone Kessell as Lieutenant Alicia "Wash" Washington, the second-in-command to Nathaniel Taylor. She had served with Taylor for several years prior to her assignment to Terra Nova. In the season finale, she was reduced by the Phoenix Group to menial status and later killed by Lucas Taylor for abetting the Shannon family's escape from the settlement.
Peter Lamb as Casey Durwin, a tradesman that works in Terra Nova's market and a former member of the U.S. army. He operates a motorized wheelchair, allegedly having lost his legs to a Carnotaurus.
Sam Parsonson as Hunter Boyce, a teenager that lives in Terra Nova and came on the 5th Pilgrimage. He is once injured by an Acceraptor (a fictional species of dromeosaur), and once contracts a 30-ft. tapeworm-like parasite of which he is relieved by Elisabeth and Skye.
Romy Poulier as Kara, Josh's girlfriend from 2149. She was unable to join the Shannons on the Tenth Pilgrimage in the series premiere, whereafter Josh cut a deal with the Sixers to bring her to Terra Nova. She eventually arrived with the Eleventh Pilgrimage, but was killed shortly thereafter by the Phoenix Group who used a suicide bomber upon arrival.
Rohan Nichol as Weaver, a senior associate of Lucas and the Phoenix Group. He commanded the mercenary forces that invaded Terra Nova in the season finale. Thereafter he returned to 2149, but was slain by a juvenile Carnotaurus brought to the future by Jim.
Jay Ryan as Tim Curran, a member of Terra Nova's security team. Banished from the colony for murdering a fellow soldier named Ken Foster, Curran was later encountered by Taylor in the local jungle, who saves Curran from an 'Ancestral Komodo'. Thereafter Taylor employed him to infiltrate the Sixers' camp, whence he removed Deborah Tate. In recognition of Curran's actions, he was readmitted to Terra Nova.
Matt Scully as Dunham, a member of Terra Nova's security team.
Damian Walshe-Howling as Carter, a member of the Sixers who was once injured and captured at Terra Nova. After escaping, he made an attempt on Nathaniel Taylor's life and was stopped by Jim Shannon, and released during a trade with the Sixers.
Ashley Zukerman as Lucas Taylor, the estranged, deceptive, and vengeful son of Nathaniel Taylor, and the principal antagonist of the series. A brilliant yet unstable physicist hired by the Phoenix Group to assist their invasion of the alternate, past Earth, for which he remained there at some length, periodically revealing the results of his calculations. During the finale, his plans were counteracted by Jim Shannon, and Lucas is himself wounded by Skye and not seen again.
Terra Nova was expected to premiere in May 2011 with a two-hour preview, but due to the time involved for visual effects, its pilot was moved to autumn (late September) 2011 to air with the rest of season one. In May 2011, Fox announced the series would air on Monday nights, and released a full trailer.Terra Nova premiered at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International on July 23, 2011. The FOX premiere drew 9.22 million viewers and 3.1 in the 18–49 demo in live plus same day results, rising to 4.1 in Live+3, the best result by a new drama.Terra Nova's high DVR gains were attributed to competition from Monday Night Football which, being a sports event, is less conducive to delayed viewing. In its second week on FOX, the show retained 100% of its demo rating (3.1), the best retention by a new series. FOX aired the entire first season consecutively on Monday nights, until its two-hour finale on December 19, 2011. In Canada, Citytvsimulcast every first season episode; the Canadian premiere drew 1.4 million viewers, the largest audience for a drama in Citytv's history.
In Australia, where the series was filmed, Network Ten began airing the series within days of its U.S. release.
In the UK and Ireland, digital channel Sky 1 broadcast the show from October 3, 2011. In France, Canal + broadcast the show on January 19, 2012. In India, Star World broadcast the show late into the night (01:00 AM & 04:00 AM) in August 2012. In Mexico, Canal 5 aired the series from September 17 until October 8. The series was also in Czech TV called Prima Cool. In Brazil aired by Fox Brasil on primetime and by TV Globo as a late show. And in Portugal aired by TVI. In Indonesia, this series was aired by RCTI in 2014 and aired in late night.
Early reviews indicated much promise in the series. In June 2011, Terra Nova was one of eight honorees in the Most Exciting New Series category at the Critics' Choice Television Awards, voted by journalists who had seen the pilots. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette compared it to Outcasts. The Los Angeles Times wrote: "Easily the most exciting show of the fall season, Fox's Terra Nova has such obvious, instant and demographically diverse appeal." The New York Post called it "Good family fun", while USA Today wrote, "What matters are the dinosaurs, who – particularly in the first hour – are as convincing and startling as TV has ever offered, roaming a gorgeous, CGI-enhanced terrain." The Wall Street Journal wrote: "Terra Nova leaves ye olde cheap-set series in the dust with production values that make each episode look cinematic." The Washington Post wrote, "Literally the biggest thing on TV this fall, Terra Nova has it all: time travel, misguided utopianism, 'Swiss Family Robinson'-style cohesion and lots of hungry dinosaurs. It's all pretty dazzling."
Mid-season reviews were highly critical. The show was called "Stargate Universe by Dr. Seuss" by Mark A. Perigard of the Boston Herald. Sam Wollaston of The Guardian stated that there was only one interesting character and that "A lot of the fault lies with what they have to say to each other. The script is as corny and cheesy as a family-sized portion of cheesy corn nachos."New York magazine reviewer Chadwick Matlin vowed never to watch the show again, saying "Sure, the premise had promise, but even masochists like us can only take so much." But by the finale in December things had turned around again where critics were mostly pleased and enthusiastic.Entertainment Weekly called the season finale "exciting". The series' first season received an aggregated score of 64% across 28 reviews from Metacritic.
The first season averaged 7.52 million American viewers and a 2.5 rating in the 18–49 demographic. The show was ranked the #2 new drama among adults 18–49, the #1 new show among men 18–49, 18–34, and 25–54 and was one of the top 20 regular programs among teens, as of January 1, 2012.
The series was released on a 4-disc DVD set on September 11, 2012. The set contains deleted scenes; bloopers; and featurettes including "Director's Diaries – Making the Pilot", an extended "Occupation/Resistance" episode with audio commentary from Stephen Lang, Brannon Braga and Rene Echevarria, "Mysteries Explored", and "Cretaceous Life: The Dinosaurs of Terra Nova".