TV-heavy Comic-Con kept fans intrigued

'Lost,' 'Heroes' among shows receiving major attention

SAN DIEGO -- Ratings may be softening for veteran serialized TV shows, but at Comic-Con hard-core fans were as adoring as ever as the cast and creators of returning shows received rock star receptions.

NBC's "Heroes," ABC's "Lost" and NBC's "Chuck" were among the most popular panels, with all three shows re-setting their storylines next year to various degrees.

For "Lost," fans camped overnight outside the San Diego Convention Center for seats in the cavernous Hall H, a space Comic-Con typically only schedules for tentpole film panels like "Avatar."

During the entertaining and carefully produced session, producers confirmed fan suspicions that several deceased characters would be coming back for the final season. Elizabeth Mitchell and Jeremy Davies will be back on the show, along with Ian Somerhalder, who will have to juggle his schedule with shooting the CW's "Vampire Diaries," and almost certainly more.

Last May's finale concluded with a bomb exploding that could reset the last several years of the character's lives. The final season, producers say, will in some ways resemble the first.

In the first season, the characters "were running around the jungle, things felt intense and surprising and there was a sense of emotional discovery about the characters," said executive producer Carlton Cuse. "We have a way that we're going to be able to do that in the final season too."

The show will also employ a new narrative device that's unique to the final season.

"The time travel season is over, the flash forward season is over," executive producer Damon Lindelof said. "We're going to do something different."

As for lingering mysteries about the show's story, "everything that matters we're gonna answer," assured Lindelof.

"Heroes" also received a rapturous response, with producers giving some details about next season's plot. The heroes will return to normal lives, but what will "normal" mean exactly?

"Do you hide? Do you assimilate?" asked creator Tim Kring. "It's a chance to go back and strip away some of the story elements that make the show harder to relate to. With Claire in college and Parkman is a detective and Peter is a paramedic, it's an entry point into the show that's easier for the audience."

The rock star reception for "Chuck" was practically literal, with the show's mock-rock-duo Jeffster introducing the panel to Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" and bringing the audience to its feet. Though Comic-Con panelists usually thank attending fans, star Zachary Levi and others displayed a deeper-than-usual appreciation for critics and viewers who helped convince NBC to give the show a third season.

"We have the best fans in the world who will go and eat multiple Subway sandwiches." Levi said, referring to a fan campaign to save the show. "You guys are incredible, I love you so much, thank you so much."

The second season concluded with Chuck quitting the Buy More and gaining kung fu superpowers and the cast addressed how the twist will change the show.

"The 'Chuck-fu' -- he can't just know kung fu all the time, otherwise his handlers are obsolete," Levi said. "So our very talented and wise creators, they've structured it so the powers have a window, a shelf life, there's a glitch in the system ... I have my powers, but they don't necessarily last. That's the secret."

Meanwhile pilot screenings for some new shows such as Fox's "Human Target" and the ABC's "V" received strong reactions from the crowd, relieving studios that their shows passed the initial sniff test among Comic-Con fans who can be both the most discriminating and forgiving of viewers. Some other shows fared less well, including an experimental off-site screening of ABC's family sitcom "The Middle," dubbed "Mom-a-Con," that drew few attendees.

Other highlights:

-- Producers of Fox's "Fringe" were grateful to be back at Comic-Con -- and having received a ballroom upgrade. Producers noted that Kirk Acevedo may be off "Fringe," but he'll still have a role to play next season. "The rumors of Charlie's demise were exaggerated," say producers at the show's Comic-Con panel about Acevedo's character Agent Charlie Francis. "But I do think Charlie will undergo some drastic changes ... which will be a surprise."

-- Needing a ballroom upgrade next year is "Attack of the Show," which left 1,000 or so fans outside after organizers underestimated the cult popularity of the G4 program. Hosts Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn had the audience play the show's theme song on kazoos, then lowered the lights and cranked up the techno and turned the room into a "nerd rave."

-- On the "Futurama" panel, executive producer Matt Groening addressed the labor standoff between studio Twentieth Century Fox Television and "Futurama" voice actors. "We love our 'Futurama' actors. And we hope that Fox and the actors can come to an agreement as soon as possible," he said. The generic statement was given more weight when Groening signed autographs on the exhibit floor with members of the voice cast.

-- The panel for Fox's "24" gave some details about "Day 8," with Jack Bauer trying to stop an assassination during a peace conference between the presidents of America and Iran. The season will start, according exec producer Manny Coto, "in a place where we've never seen him: happy." But the crowd was reassured it wouldn't last.

-- Cartoon Network's popular Star Wars series "The Clone Wars" will be more targeted toward adults next season, says series supervising director Dave Filoni. "We started it like typical cartoon," Filoni said. "For season two, we made it a lot more intense ... little more violent ... people start losing limbs."

-- HBO's "True Blood" will release an energy drink that looks like the show's signature bottled blood substitute and author Charlane Harris has signed a contract for three more "Sookie Stackhouse" books that the HBO drama is based on.

-- The CW's upcoming "Vampire Diaries," which hopes to catch some of the "Twilight" and "True Blood" hysteria, drew an equal number of cheers and jeers for its tween dialogue during its pilot screening. Panelists gamely answered several questions about comparisons to those other vampire franchises. "I got into the series because of 'Twilight' and 'True Blood,'" said writer/executive producer Kevin Williamson. "I love those shows, that's why I wanted to get into the vampire genre."

-- Producers of ABC's "FlashForward" confirmed that "Lost" alum Dominic Monaghan is joining the cast of ABC's new fall drama. Given the changes coming to "Lost" next season, an appearance on that show also seems likely -- especially since the actor appeared on stage at the conclusion of the "Lost" panel.

Lesley Goldberg and Steven Zeitchik contributed to this report.