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Scott D. Pierce
Scott D. Pierce writes about television for the Salt Lake Tribune. Vice president of the Television Critics Associationn, he's covered TV in Utah since 1990.

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Viewers, beware! 'Alcatraz' could be the new 'Fringe'

Are you ready for another TV show that's produced under the auspices of J.J. Abrams?

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Abrams is promising that, unlike "Lost," the new show "Alcatraz" (Monday, 7 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13) will not be so serialized that you can't jump in and watch an episode if you haven't been on board since the beginning.

The problem is - he's made that promise before. And failed to deliver on that promise.

The premise of "Alcatraz" is fantastic. Fantastic in the sense that it's bizarre, not necessarily that it's good.

In this reality, the Alcatraz prison was not shut down in 1963. Instead, everyone there suddenly disappeared without explanation. And some of those inmates are reappearing in 2012, not having aged a day and with the same criminal intent.

San Francisco police detective Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) and Alcatraz expert/comic book guy Dr. Diego "Doc" Soto (Jorge Garcia) are sucked into the investigation, reporting to the enigmatic Emerson Hauser. In Monday's premiere - which is actually two back-to-back hourlong episodes - "Alcatraz" already looks like a bad guy-of-the-week show, with the over-arching mystery.

And that's what it's supposed to be.

But so many of Abrams' shows end up being something he promised they wouldn't be. Like when "Lost" was going to actually explain some of its mysteries. And take note: There are other "Lost" writers and producers working on "Alcatraz."

So what are the odds these are going to stand-alone episodes that make sense to the casual viewer?

"I love serialized TV," Abrams said. "I love it. I adore it. I think it's awesome."

Not for the first time, Abrams recounted watching an episode of his show "Alias" and finding himself completely confused. And then he promised it wouldn't happen with "Alcatraz."

But he made that exact promise before "Fringe" premiered. That show was going to be a bad guy of the week with an over-arching mythology. And, before that show got through Season 1, it was absolutely impenetrable to anyone who hadn't watched every episode.

"You're absolutely right," Abrams said. "And by the way, A - I apologize. And B - honestly, I'm always learning and trying to figure things out. And you could not be more right.

"That show - very different from 'Alcatraz.' Which, again, the premise was there are these 300 people who disappeared and, every week, one person comes back."

Frankly, the premise of "Alcatraz" sounds like it could have been a good movie. A good TV series? That will be a lot harder to pull off.

WE'RE ALL ON AN ISLAND: "Lost" was a TV show about an island, produced by J.J. Abrams and starring Jorge Garcia.

"Alcatraz" is a TV show about an island, produced by J.J. Abrams and starring Jorge Garcia.

According to Abrams, the similarities end there.

"The thing is that, I mean, in theory, any land mass is an island," he said. "So you could argue every show ever made was on an island. 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' is much like 'Lost.'"

And when it comes to Garcia, who played Hurley on "Lost" and stars as Doc on "Alcatraz," the two shows are sort of polar opposites.

"Jorge was the last person cast in 'Lost.' He was the first person that was cast in 'Alcatraz,'" Abrams said.

When the two met before this show began, Garcia's girlfriend "was obsessed with Alcatraz." She was actually writing a book about it.

"I said, 'That's cool because we're actually working on a show. Jorge. Would you want to be in this show 'Alcatraz'?" Abrams said. "And he's, like, 'That's cool.'"

"This is not something you want to admit when he's sitting right next to you," Garcia said, "but pretty much, if J.J. asked me to do anything, I say 'yes' first and then read second."

"That's a lot about how stupid he is," Abrams joked.



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