TCA: J.J. Abrams Says 'Alcatraz' Won't Be Purely Serialized

Alcatraz, Fox

Premieres: Monday, Jan. 16, 8:00 p.m. ET

Lost gurus J.J. Abrams and Elizabeth Sarnoff hope for success on another island with this supernatural mystery about Alcatraz prisoners returning modern day San Francisco after  disappearing when the notorious prison closed. Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia and Sam Neill headline the ensemble trying to figure out (or cover up) what's really happening.

After series including Alias, Lost and Fringe, J.J. Abrams defended the serialized drama while noting that his upcoming Fox drama Alcatraz will have a case of the week style while still having a larger mythology at play.

"This show was designed as episodic with an overarching large mythology we get to over time," Abrams told reporters Sunday during the Television Critics Association's winter press tour session for Alcatraz.

The time-travel drama stars Sam Neill, Sarah Jones and Jorge Garcia as specialized detectives investigating the mysterious reappearance of the original 1963 inmates from the famed San Francisco prison.

After telling reporters of a time in which he went to a friend's and happened to watch an episode of his Alias and being completely confused coming in as a "new" viewer, Abrams defended the serialized format and noted the problems the format presents to viewers.

"I watched four minutes of the opening of [an Alias] and said, 'What the f--- is going on,'" Abrams said. "I knew the story and worked on the episode. You see it from the outside and my heart broke for everyone. I loved doing Alias, it's one of my favorite things, but that show was really built as a serialized show. When we were instructed b the network at the beginning of Season 3 to stop that, we then went to episodic and I think the show suffered for it."

With a handful of new series attempting a broader format while still balancing serialized elements -- including Fox's Alcatraz, Touch and NBC's Awake -- producers including Daniel Pyne, Jack Bender and Jennifer Johnson noted the San Francisco-set drama would be able to appeal to viewers no matter when they tuned in to the series.

"If you watch it occasionally, you won't be disappointed; if you watch it consecutively, you'll understand through lines; if you watch it piecemeal you'll be able to understand it," Pyne said.

Abrams also noted that Alcatraz is a very different series from Fringe, calling the parallel universe drama starring John Noble, Anna Torv and Josh Jackson a more "emotional show from the beginning."

"That show [Fringe] is more about a condition than a premise," Abrams said. "We have ideas of where the show is going but because the show is based more on a premise than Fringe was … this show has an opportunity to both episodic case of the week with big questions looming."

Alcatraz premieres Monday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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