Although the series was quickly cancelled and aired just seven episodes, the story of Freedom is an interesting one. The original lead actor was replaced and the pilot episode was scrapped, rewritten and reshot. Yet footage from the unaired pilot was used to promote the series on air. It got decent reviews but disappointing ratings and a number of episodes were never broadcast — at least not in the United States. Only months after it went off the air, the series was being aired internationally in a number of countries, where it developed a small cult following.
In early 2000, as UPN set about developing its 2000-2001 schedule, the network wasn’t looking to make any drastic changes. Tom Nonan, UPN Entertainment president, explained in mid-February 2000 that he “would be surprised if we put any more than two new dramas and two new comedies on the air next fall. If you look at our schedule right now, we’ve got five nights, four of which are working pretty well” . UPN did not offer network programming on Saturday or Sunday nights.
The network ordered pilots episodes for four hour-long dramas: The Contender, The Hospital, Level Nine and Freedom . Freedom would be executive produced by Joel Silver, best known for producing blockbuster action films like Predator, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and The Matrix. It would not be Silver’s first foray into television. During the 1999-2000 season he had executive produced two failed series, Action on FOX and The Strip on UPN.
The Hollywood Reporter described Freedom as “a martial arts-driven drama” and noted UPN was “eager to be in business” with Silver . In April 1999, UPN had premiered the pilot episode for a two-hour wrestling series called WWF Smackdown!, which later debuted as a weekly series in August 1999. Its success in drawing younger male viewers allowed UPN to finish fifth among the six major broadcast networks during the 1999-2000 season. It averaged 3.9 million viewers, up more than a million from the 1998-1999 season, and comfortably ahead of the 3.6 million for The WB .
UPN was obviously hoping that Silver’s background in action movies would help draw the same youthful male audience to Freedom that were watching WWF Smackdown! week after week.
On April 14th, Daily Variety reported that actor Vincent Spano had been signed to star in the pilot episode of Freedom, which would be shot in Vancouver. The pilot script was written by Hans Toebeason. It would be directed by Corey Yuen, who had worked with Joel Silver on a number of film projects .
The premise of Freedom was that the military had taken control of the United States government, following turmoil in the Middle East, a complete collapse of the stock market, and the death of the President in an plane crash. Martial law was enforced and freedoms curtailed. Spano’s character, Colonel Cally Beach, would head an elite team of soldiers: Londo Pearl (played by Bodhi Elfman), James Barrett (played by Darius McCrary) and Becca Ashe (played by Scarlett Chorvat). The team’s commanding officer, Colonel Timothy Devon, was played by James Morrison.
In the pilot episode, Beach and his team refused to go along with military regime’s orders. During a confrontation with Devon, Beach’s wife was killed and his young son taken away. He and the others were thrown in prison. They managed to escape and joined up with the Resistance, headed by Mister Young (played by Lance Henrikson), a group dedicated to removing the Regime and restoring democracy to the country. They also met another Resistance member named Jin (played by Francoise Yip), who would become their primary contact.
UPN announced its final 2000-2001 schedule on May 18th. As had been predicted, only two new dramas had been added: Freedom and Level 9 (about a government agency tasked with combating cyber crime) . The two would air on Fridays.
Only days later, however, Daily Variety reported that Vincent Spano had left the series . UPN had already begun promoting the series, using footage from the pilot episode. Spano was replaced in early July by Holt McCallany .
According to creator Hans Tobeason, UPN executives were the ones who pushed to get rid of Spano. “This was a case of the classic network request – ‘We LOVE the show, but don’t think that Vince plays young enough for our audience.’ Then they decided that they didn’t like the name ‘Cally Beach.’ Then they decided they didn’t really like the whole damn script. So we recast, and I rewrote” . McCallany’s character was renamed Owen Decker. The last name of Scarlett Chorvat’s character was changed from Ashe to Shaw.
Lance Henrikson was also recast. The character of Mister Young morphed into General Young, played by Georg Stanford Brown. Said Tobeason, “when I rewrote the script, the role changed. I loved Lance, but he was too expensive for us on an episodic budget. So – we got Georg, who was fantastic, by the way. He had two scenes – the announcement scene, and the lakeside scene. Both scenes were much longer in script, but in the episode we had to keep cutting them down per network request” .
The actress playing Beach’s wife was recast as well, as was the boy playing his young son. “Meagan Beach was played, in the original pilot, by Lureen Music. She’s a Canadian actress. We decided to change because we thought we needed someone with a little more experience – it was my intention to use Meagan as a recurring character in the series. Also, for the original pilot, we needed to cast someone who was not uncomfortable with partial nudity. That limited our choices. I did think, however, that Lureen did a great job” . Claudette Mink would take over the part of Meagen Decker.
The revised script made some changes to the story as well. While Beach and the others were already an elite team in the original pilot, in the revised script Decker and the others met for the first time in prison. Furthermore, in the original pilot after getting out of prison, Mister Young asked Beach and his team to carry out a mission involving a heavily armed and armored Regime soldier. In the revised script, Decker and the others are asked to rescue General Young’s family from the Regime.
Tobeason remained fond of the unaired pilot episode. “I actually like the original better – it was cooler, and had more attitude. But maybe I’m just being nostalgic” .
A review of the unaired pilot episode for Canada’s TV Magazine (which must have received an early screener) noted the “impressive stunt work and lots of nifty explosions” but called it ridiculous and compared it to a badly made video game .
Although never aired in the United States, the pilot was broadcast internationally. It was shown in The Netherlands on September 23rd, 2001 on Channel V8. Some viewers were understandably confused when the original pilot episode was shown without any explanation. The original pilot was also broadcast in Poland, Malaysia, and South Africa.
In August, UPN announced premiere dates for the 2000-2001 season. Freedom and Level 9 would debut almost a month after the official start of the season on Friday, October 27th . Critics were generally kind to the premiere episode, which delivered on its promise of impressive action sequences and outrageous, gravity-defying fight scenes.
Jeff Gemmill of TV Guide Online felt the premiere showed promise. He compared the concept to films Seven Days in May and Red Dawn, wondering if Freedom would “fall folly to ‘Red Dawn’-type scare tactics or maintain a sense of respect for its audience, a la ‘Seven Days in May’” .
Copyright © TV Guide, 2000 
Tom Maurstad of The Dallas Morning News called it “a comic book come to life, and viewed that way the premiere is slick fun. At the center of the series is a foursome of super-bad rebels who join together to form this show’s version of the Fantastic Four or the A-Team.” He also referred to the premiere as “high-energy entertainment” and concluded his review by writing “in a surprisingly sophisticated way, Freedom’s intensity makes this broadcast network television at its edgiest..
The Washington Post‘s Tom Shales was one of several critics to point out the name of the prison Decker and the others were sent to:
One little detail in a scene from UPN’s new futuristic series “Freedom” suggests that our current president will indeed be remembered. The scene is set at the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Prison.
It’s a nice touch but one far subtler than most of those in the show. “Freedom” is not about touching but about pushing, shoving, whomping, stomping and clobbering. As such things go, it isn’t bad, either, a raucously entertaining hour whose executive producers include Joel Silver, master of movie mayhem along the lines of the “Lethal Weapon” series and “The Matrix,” one of the smartest and sassiest pictures ever made in that genre. 
With the exception of Scarlett Chorvat, who he referred to as Freedom‘s Ripley (of Alien fame), Shales felt the cast were “undistinguishable [sic] one from the other.” Overall, he felt the premiere “roars along like a house afire” and “wastes no time, takes no prisoners and leaves no butt unkicked” .
In his review for Variety, Ramin Zahed wrote “if the opener is any indication, this is going to be one hell of an action-packed, tobaccochewing, muscle-flexing ride. Its supermacho, military-trained characters border on caricatures, but the martial arts sequences should appeal to auds hungry for ‘Matrix’-style fights featuring characters kickboxing in midair.” While he felt the cast had nice chemistry, the dialogue was clunky. But the premiere “earns its medals because of its impressive action sequences” .
One negative review came from Tom Conroy of Us Weekly, who wrote “Freedom’s just another word for nothing else to watch” and called the series formulaic. He did admit that it had “some pretty cool martial arts stunts and occasional blinks of creativity” .
Outrageous martial arts stunts were the hallmark of the series. Episodes featured such physics-defying sequences as a character running on a wall or two characters running down the side of a building using nothing but a rope. There were also plenty of fight scenes that included wildly unrealistic mid-air flips and kicks. Londo was somehow able to fling a quarter hard enough to penetrate steel or knock someone out.
The series featured some vaguely science fiction-y elements, like fake fingerprints to fool a biometric hand scanner.
The series premiere of Freedom was watched by 3.6 million viewers while 3.1 million tuned in for the premiere of Level 9 from 9-10PM. That was fewer than had watched a pair of reality specials the previous week but an improvement over the average viewership for the network’s Blockbuster Video Shockwave Cinema during the 1999-2000 season . More specifically, the shows were up in viewership 29% and 18%, respectively, over the past season’s movie block .
Brian Lowry of The Los Angeles Times called those figures “a mild start” for UPN . But Broadcasting & Cable pointed out that Freedom and Level 9 drew the highest rating for original programming on Friday nights in the history of UPN . UPN began programming Friday nights at the start of the 1998-1999 season.
In the key adults 18-49 demographic, Freedom and Level 9 averaged a 1.5/5 Nielsen rating . For the week, the premiere of Freedom tied with The WB’s Sabrina, The Teenaged Witch (which aired from 8-8:30PM on Fridays) for 102nd out of 139 shows, with a 2.4 national Nielsen rating. It was UPN’s fifth highest-rated program that week, behind WWF Smackdown!, Star Trek: Voyager, The Hughleys and The Parkers. Level 9 tied for 114th with a 2.0 rating .
The following week, Freedom ranked 115th out of 138 shows with a 1.7 rating, while Freedom tied for 117th. Excluding programs broadcast by PAX, both shows were in the Bottom 5 for the week, with Level 9 literally the lowest-rated non-PAX show . The third episode rated even worse, drawing a 1.5 Nielsen rating and ranking 116th out of 137 shows, faring worse than a repeat of Diagnosis Murder on PAX . Along with Level 9, the series averaged a lowly 1.0/3 in the adults 18-49 demographic, a poor performance even by UPN standards .
On December 7th, after six episodes had been aired, UPN announced it was cancelling Freedom, which was averaging just 2.6 million viewers. Yet Level 9, which was performing even worse, would stay on the air. Reacting to the cancellation, Hans Tobeason argued “when people don’t have things to watch on the other networks on Friday night at 8 o’clock, they don’t turn the channel to UPN. They just go and do something else. My target audience is generally not the kind of self-respecting person that would be in on a Friday night. Clearly these are the reasons that we’re sitting on a 4 share” .
At the time it was cancelled, Freedom was still filming, with production set to wrap on January 4th, 2001 . Including the unaired pilot, a total of 13 episodes had been ordered. UPN aired repeats of the first two episodes on December 8th and 15th, followed by a seventh new episode on December 22nd. Hans Tobeason was told by UPN that the network might air the remaining five episodes . A third repeat aired on December 29th and a fourth on January 5th, 2001. The following week, UPN premiered a new half-hour claymation sitcom called Gary & Mike at 8PM and repeats of another claymation series, Celebrity Deathmatch, at 8:30PM.
It is possible that UPN didn’t have any additional completed episodes to air in late 2000/early 2001, which is why it aired repeats. Having already paid for the remaining five episodes, it seems odd that the network would opt instead to air repeats. But if production didn’t end until January 2001, and additional time needed for post-production, the network may not have had any choice. The last five episodes were not aired by UPN and have never been seen in the United States.
When the final Nielsen ratings for the 2000-2001 season were released, Freedom tied for 151st with a 1.6 rating and Level 9 tied for 158th. By comparison, WWF Smackdown!, UPN’s highest-rated program, tied for 108th with a 4.4 rating .
Each episode of Freedom began with a brief introduction featuring scrolling text that explained the background of the series. Holt McCallany provided the voice over narration.
The series began some two years after the collapse of the stock market which had plunged the United States into economic crisis. Within months, militias and cults from across the political spectrum had killed thousands in bombings. Then Air Force One crashed, killing the President and everyone else aboard. The Vice President declared martial law and ceded control of the country to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Walter Young.
Young promised that the current state of affairs was temporary and necessary to maintain peace. Others, however, saw it as a military coup. The military government became known as the Regime and those who opposed it as the Resistance. There was plenty of support for the Resistance amongst the populace, although not everyone was on their side. Although the Regime did offer some stability, a lot of people remembered how things used to be.
Under the Regime, cities had perimeters that were locked down at 6PM. If you weren’t out by then you weren’t getting out until morning. All citizens were required to carry identity cards. Televisions had to be purchased with a government license and, despite there only being one channel (Channel 1) in existence, still came with a remote. Certain foods, like exotic blends of coffee and various types of candy, were difficult to come by.
At the start of the series premiere (“Alpha Dogs,” aired October 27th, 2000), various members of the military were rounded up on charges of treason. They included James “Jay” Barrett (Navy Seals), Becca Shaw (Army Rangers), Londo Pearl (Special Forces) and Owen Decker (Marine Corps). During his arrest, Decker’s wife Meagan was killed by Colonel Decker, who had served with Decker in an elite covert ops unit called Ten Zulu. Decker was dragged away from his young son, Connor.
The four were incarcerated at William Jefferson Clinton Federal Prison. Men and women were imprisoned alongside one another, at the mercy of cruel guards. Some were forced to fight for food in The Pit, with the loser winding up in a “rat cage” for a week. Any sort of misbehavior was punished quickly and severely. Before long, Decker, Jay, Becca and Londo had misbehaved and all four were put in rat cages as punishment.
Fifteen months later, they’d become a close-knit group, bonded by their time in prison and sharing a sense of betrayal by the country they pledged to serve. They soon break out of prison with the help of a Resistance infiltrator. Once outside they met Jin, who was ordered to break Decker out by the head of the Resistance, who turned out to be none other than General Young, the man Decker and the others held responsible for the military taking control of the government.
Young insisted he had done what needed to be done to save the country. But when it came time to step down and return control to elected officials, the other joint chiefs refused. He felt the country was in the midst of a new civil war, with half the country happy to have the military in charge to ensure safety and stability, and the other have yearning for freedom. Young sided with freedom.
Unfortunately, his wife and daughters were being held captive and would be killed if he didn’t turn himself in. He asked Decker and the others to save them and, after learning that Col. Devon was the one holding them, they agreed. During the rescue, Decker learned that his son Connor was alive but couldn’t get Col. Devon to tell him where Connor was being held.
Their mission fulfilled, Decker and the others were free to do whatever they wanted. But before she left them, Jin handed Decker an encrypted phone call, telling him to answer it if it rang. The country needed them. The four decided to join the Resistance and help take back the country.
In the second episode (“The Chase,” aired November 3rd, 2000), the team was tasked with stealing top secret Regime codes that could be used to break a number of high-level Resistance members out of prison. The plan was going smoothly until Jay and Becca were stopped by the police, forcing Decker and Londo to carjack a young woman to escape. They knew that the Regime would assume she was working with the Resistance and she’d be killed if they let her go. So they had no choice but to drag her along until the mission was complete.
The third episode (“Assassins,” aired November 10th, 2000) saw the team faking the assassination of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and his wife and daughter so they could escape the Regime and the Resistance could get $10 billion. The Chairman had been part of the military coup and called his role a “fiscal assault” to ruin the wealthy and keep them in line. Although the fake assassination went off without a hitch, things got complicated when the Chairman’s teenaged daughter repeatedly tried to run off and contact her soldier boyfriend.
The team was directed to a group of eight Resistance commanders back to the Northwest in the fourth episode (“Enemy,” aired November 17th, 2000) but ran into engine trouble and were forced to land somewhere in the Montana mountains. It was a rough landing. The group then had to hike to a nearby Regime airfield. When accidents started claiming lives, Decker and the others realized one of the Resistance leaders was a traitor and a killer. But they had no idea who it was. Things came to a head after a mine collapse trapped most of the group and Jay discovered that an old friend was the traitor and was forced to kill him.
In the fifth episode (“Freezone,” aired November 24th, 2000), after the team purchased four dozen Stinger missiles, they were ambushed and the missiles stolen. The man who stole them was named Roarke, an ex-Marine who had gone native in Southeast Asia and now was operating a free-for-all bazaar in Texas called Freezone. Going after Roarke, who he had pursued in Southeast Asia and like him had lost a wife, caused Decker to start having nightmares, and a plan to steal back the missiles went awry when Decker failed to show up. The others proceeded without him and were captured. Decker ultimately was able to shake off his emotional baggage at just the right moment to kill Roarke and get the Stingers back.
Becca’s younger brother Nolan played a pivotal role in the sixth episode (“Seige,” aired December 1st, 2000). He had been captured by a counter-terrorism expert on loan from the European Union and was being held with other Resistance leaders on an old Navy frigate. Despite concerns from the others when they learned of her connection to Nolan, Becca insisted on participating in the mission. After finding him, the two started arguing and a guard was able to raise the alarm. Decker, Londo and Jay and the other prisoners were captured, leaving Becca and Nolan to rescue them.
The seventh episode (“Lone Wolf,” aired December 22nd, 2000) involved the team trying to cover a biotoxin developed by the Regime, as well as the antitoxin. It had been stolen by a mysterious marauder known only as the Wolf. Devon was personally tracking the Wolf, leaving a trail of bodies behind. Becca was captured while attempting to meet an informant, while Jay and Londo learned that the Wolf was actually a group of local teenagers. Londo and one of the teens were infected by the biotoxin during a fight and nearly died before the others were able to find the antitoxin.
Guest stars included Verne Troyer, Michael Trucco, Kellie Waymire, Samm Levine, JoAnna Garcia, Bas Rutten, as well as WWE personality Terri Runnels and former Survivor contestent Jenna Lewis.
Only a few months after UPN stopped airing the series in the United States, the Warner Channel in Brazil began broadcasting episodes of Freedom on Tuesdays at 9PM. All seven episodes that had aired in the United States were shown. Then they were shown again. And then again. In April 2001, following the third showing of the last of these episodes, the final five episodes never aired in the United States were broadcast in Brazil, potentially for the first time anywhere.
The Unaired Episodes
In this episode Decker found his son and he almost gets [to] rescue him. [T]hey get in the Regime Operational Complex Building to rob a list [containing] the collaborators’ of the Regime names, when Devon get[s] in the building to capture them.
A Resistance agent in a Regime-run women’s prison. The team must infiltrate and evacuate before a sadistic doctor manages to crack their target. A character from “Alpha Dogs” returns.
A meeting of the top former politicians and the top military brass set the stage for a living bomb scare. A fake “Military Threat” allows the Regime to clear out their people, but the team has to fight top security in order to ‘save the senators’. *Watch for Dedication*
A mind control lab in a Regime prison. The team must rescue a Resistance agent, but Decker is drugged and caught in an elaborate ruse. The team must find and assist him before he gives away vital information.
With Devon and Ten Zulu closing in, the team matches wits with a gang leader from Jin’s past. The prize? Nothing less than the Regime’s operating system.
In May 2001, the 12th and final episode was aired in Brazil. Titled “Ransom,” the episode served as an official series finale, wrapping up storylines and seeing the characters go their separate ways. The same 12 episodes then began airing again.
Freedom then began airing in Greece in July 2001, in the Netherlands and in Canada (on Global TV at 2AM) in August 2001, and in Israel in September 2001. In August 2002, the series was still airing in Brazil, although on a different station.
In January 2003 the series began airing in Malaysia. It debuted in Australia on Channel Nine on May 23rd, 2003. Freedom also aired in Poland, although exactly when it aired is unknown. The last known airing of the series anywhere in the world was July 2003 in Brazil when it was shown on Saturdays.
Although Level 9 was later aired in the United States on the Sci-Fi Channel starting in 2006, with its three unaired episodes debuting in 2008, Freedom has never been syndicated in the United States. Nor has it been released commercially on any format.
3 “Silver martial arts drama is ready to kick in at UPN.” The Hollywood Reporter. BPI Entertainment News Wire. 8 Feb. 2000.
4 Lowry, Brian. “ABC, UPN Find the Answer to Stop Drop.” Los Angeles Times. 26 May 2000: 1.
5 Schneider, Michael. “Spano Cries for UPN’s ‘Freedom’.” Daily Variety. 14 Apr. 2000: 3.
6 Lowry, Brian. “CBS, UPN Reveeal Fall Plans.” Los Angeles Times. 18 May 2000: CAL.53.
7 Loggia, Cynthia. “‘Freedom’ Marches on Sans Spano.” Daily Variety. 22 May 2000: 3.
8 Adalian, Josef. “McCallany Finds ‘Freedom’.” Daily Variety. 11 Jul. 2000: 5.
9 E-mail interview with Hans Tobeason, April 2001.
13 Brioux, Bill. “Catch a Rising or Falling Star.” Toronto Sun. 1 Oct. 2000: TV33.
14 Linan, Steven. “Morning Report.” Los Angeles Times. 12 Aug. 2000: 2.
15 Gemmill, Jeff. “Piece de Resistance.” TV Guide Online. TV Guide. 27 Oct. 2000. Web. 15 Jul. 2001.
16 Maurstad, Tom. “Freedom.” The Dallas Morning News. n.p. 27 Oct. 2000. Web. 15 Jul. 2001.
17 Shales, Tom. “Rolling With the Punches In UPN’s ‘Freedom’.” The Washington Post. 27 Oct. 2000: C.1.
19 Zahed, Ramin. “Freedom.” Variety. 30 Oct. 2000: 30.
20 Conroy, Tom. “Freedom.” Us Weekly. 20 Nov. 2000: 46.
21 Johnson, Peter. “ABC Seeks New Ways to Boost Weak ‘Week’.” USA Today. 31 Oct. 2000: 05.D.
22 de Moraes, Lisa. “NBC’s Double Play: Niles and Daphne.” The Washington Post 1 Nov 2000: C.07.
23 Lowry, Brian. “Prime-Time TV Rankings: ‘Frasier’ Hits Home Run; Fox Bunts Its Way to Win.” Los Angeles Times. 1 Nov. 2000: F11.
24 Schlosser, Joe. “Weblets Now Neck and Neck.” Broadcasting & Cable. 6 Nov. 2000: 24.
25 Kissell, Rick. “Peacock Wins Key Demo Race.” Daily Variety. 1 Nov. 2000: 10.
26 “Prime-Time Nielsen Ratings.” AP News Archive. Associated Press. 31 Oct. 2000. Web. 14 Jul. 2013.
27 “Prime-Time Nielsen Ratings.” AP News Archive. Associated Press. 7 Nov. 2000. Web. 14 Jul. 2013.
28 “Prime-Time Nielsen Ratings.” AP News Archive. Associated Press. 15 Nov. 2000. Web. 14 Jul. 2013.
29 Kissell, Rick. “NBC Wins as Weblets Log Demo Gains.” Daily Variety. 15 Nov. 2000: 7.
30 “FOX’s ‘Street’ and UPN’s ‘Freedom’ Gone.” Zap2It.com. n.p. 7 Dec. 2000. Web. 1 Dec. 2007.
31 E-mail correspondence from Hans Tobeason, 22 Dec. 2000.
33 “Complete Prime-Time TV Ratings.” San Francisco Chronicle. 25 May 2001: C.2.
Hans Tobeason was kind enough to agree to an e-mail interview regarding the unaired pilot and provided additional information about production on the series.
Rosana provided summaries for the five episodes unaired in the United States.
Additional summaries of the unaired episodes came from an anonymous source who worked on Freedom and wished the entire series could have aired.
Jeff provided images from one of the unaired episodes.
Information about the series airing internationally was provided by more than a dozen individuals from all over the world.
Originally Published August 26th, 2004
Last Updated July 14th, 2013