Show centers on return of 4,400 missing people to Earth

Aliens are invading USA.

Cabler has greenlit series pilot “The 4400,” a science fiction drama from exec producers Francis Ford Coppola, Rene Echevarria (“Dark Angel”) and Maira Suro (“Platinum”).

Venture is the first foray into cable for Echevarria and Suro. Coppola last teamed with USA on the four-hour mini “Moby Dick.”

Picking up where most alien-abduction tales end, “The 4400″ centers on the return of 4,400 missing people to Earth.

USA has ordered the pilot plus five episodes of the hourlong skein, created and written by Scott Peters (“The Outer Limits”).

Viacom Prods. and Renegade 83 are producing. Peters also will produce.

Series kicks off with an apocalyptic ball of light sailing toward earth. In place of the expected catastrophic event, however, thousands of returned abductees are left with no memory of their otherworldly experiences. Each has been gone anywhere from a few months to several decades, but hasn’t aged a day.

Peters, who originally developed the series for Fox, said “The 4400″ is rooted in history much more than in classic sci-fi.

“Deep down at its core, the show is a metaphor for Sept. 11,” he said. “It has to do with the aftermath of a single unprecedented event that touches everyone’s lives. How do we react to that?”

Echevarria described the ensemble drama as a mix of “The X-Files” and “Party of Five,” two parts character drama, one part extraterrestrial.

“There’s people dealing with traumatic changes, precipitated by this cool sci-fi event. And the whole thing is driven by the mystery of what happened and why,” he said. “The alien stuff is just a great launching pad for everything else that follows.”

One character who has been missing for 15 years comes back to find her husband remarried and her daughter nearing her own age.

“We’re watching as these people try to put their lives back together,” Suro said. “Some of them have been affected in mysterious ways, some will have certain abilities, both good and bad. So part of the drama will be adjusting to the changes within themselves.”

USA will likely premiere the series next summer. Production on the pilot starts in February, but no casting has yet been set.

Cabler confirmed the deal but declined comment. Net is in production on the Cheyenne-produced crime drama “Touching Evil.”

Echevarria is exec producing and writing the pilot for Fox cop drama “Ricochet” (Daily Variety, Nov. 25). He also exec produced ABC hour “MDs” and wrote for CBS drama “Now and Again” as well as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Stark Trek: The Next Generation.”

Renegade and Echevarria are repped by Endeavor. Peters is repped by Genesis.

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