Talk about being late to the party. Fox's Drive and ABC's 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 storylines 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 are only 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 to advertisers last 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, including 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.