Fox has gotten into a rather interesting (and some would say annoying) habit of trying to change series in midstream — renewing them, but then engineering pretty dramatic shifts, usually in an effort to make them more female-friendly.

It didn't work, for example, with "Human Target," as I've previously lamented, or with "Breaking In," the Christian Slater vehicle.

TouchUndaunted, Fox has once again tinkered with a marginally rated show, "Touch," starring Kiefer Sutherland. While I had problems with the show's debut last season, the new run, which begins Feb. 8, takes the show in a markedly different direction — much closer to a "24"-like serialized thrill ride than the up-with-people, we're-all-connected episodes of the maiden flight.

The show has also added Maria Bello (never a bad thing) as a series regular, playing a woman whose daughter — like Sutherland's mute son — has a strange next-evolution gift, allowing him to connect numbers in unexpected, near-mystical ways. There's also an investigative website staffed by a former Los Angeles Times reporter to offer the pair assistance, as they try to tackle a shadowy corporation that appears to be attempting to harness and exploit the kids.

The new version (which kicks off with a two-hour episode) hews much closer to territory series creator Tim Kring mined with "Heroes," with some of the strengths in terms of what amounts to the kid's super-power, and more of the weaknesses.

Fox has lowered expectations by bringing the show back scheduled on Friday nights, but once again, other than wanting to stay in business with the high-profile talent involved, it's hard to discern why the new-look "Touch" should be expected to fare any better in terms of the numbers that really matter than the old one. (It's been reported Bello won't return for a third season, but based on the likelihood of that happening, such a scenario could very well be moot.)

In "24," Sutherland's character was known for slapping around prisoners, but the only tortured thing here is the network's logic — and the assumption it's possible to keep getting second bites at the apple. Because despite Fox's apparent faith in its ability to "fix" shows, reaping any benefits from this sort of tinkering requires an awfully delicate touch.

 

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