Serialized dramas hope to reheat genre

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Talk about being late to the party. Fox's "Drive" and ABC' "Traveler" -- both heavily serialized dramas -- were developed during the 2006-07 development cycle when the genre was red hot.

A year later, the genre is in the freezer after the majority of ambitious new fall series with continuous story lines crashed and burned. Now "Drive," which premieres Sunday, and "Traveler," slated for a May 30 launch, will test the airwaves to see if the serialized drama curse has been lifted.

As a midseason entry, it was tough going into production in October, "Traveler" creator David DiGilio recalls.

"There was a lot of negative press about serialized shows in the fall," he says. "Poor creators of serialized shows waiting in the wings had to bear the effects of that time."

He believes that by launching months later -- with fewer shows competing for the total viewer commitment serialized dramas require -- those series have a much better chance of survival.

"It's letting people come to the show with fresh eyes, letting them realize that it's all about the show, not what kind of show it is, and that the biggest show of the year is a heavily serialized one, 'Heroes.' "

Indeed, observers note that it was the dark serialized dramas such as "Vanished," "Kidnapped," "Smith," "The Nine" and "Day Break" that fizzled, while lighter fare such as the heavily serialized "Heroes" and the soap "Ugly Betty" became the breakout hits of the season.

"Drive" and "Traveler" are in the action-adventure genre -- "Drive" chronicles an illegal cross-country race and its participants, while "Traveler" revolves around two graduate students searching for their friend Will Traveler, who disappeared after framing them for a terrorist act.

That makes the shows a good fit for the summer movie season that kicks in next month. " 'Traveler' has a summer-popcorn-movie vibe to it, with intriguing action and characters," says DiGilio, who knows a thing or two about hit movies, having written the crowd-pleaser "Eight Below."

Meanwhile, "Drive" co-creator Tim Minear, who has executive produced such cult favorites as "Wonderfalls" and "Firefly," describes "Drive" as "a hybrid of fun comedy, thriller and emotional drama."

While their finish lines only are weeks apart, "Drive" and "Traveler" took different routes to the schedule. "Traveler" was one of the best-received new series at ABC's upfront presentation in May, but it didn't get a spot on the fall schedule.

The pilot for "Drive" didn't film until the summer and was ordered to series in late October, when the genre already had fallen out of favor with most network executives -- but not Fox entertainment president Peter Liguori. "We have a lot of faith in 'Drive,' " he said in January. "It's bold."

Along the way, "Drive" got a major tune-up. An elaborate five-minute opening racing scene was scrapped in favor of jumping quickly into the characters' backstories.

"We felt the audience needed to be invested in the characters, so when you put them in the middle of the action, viewers would care for them," Minear says.

To maximize the effect, the plot in the pilot was condensed, and several roles, includsing the lead, were tweaked and recast.

To launch the show, Fox is taking a page out of its successful "24" playbook with a two-night premiere April 15 and 16.

Unlike "24," because of their short orders -- 13 episodes for "Drive" and eight episodes for "Traveler" -- neither series will get to a full resolution by its season finale. But "Drive" will cut off "at a logical place in the race," Minear says, and "Traveler" will reveal the identity of Will Traveler.

"We're very conscious about making sure we don't frustrate the audience too much," DiGilio says.
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