Fox’s ratings phenom “24” has became a blueprint for a new type of TV drama — where a season comprises 20-plus episodes each representing an hour, a day, a year or an event in the lives of its protagonists.
Some skeins capture the audience’s imagination (“Lost”), while others disappear quickly (last year’s short-lived Fox show “Reunion”). Overall, the ideas have grown increasingly complex.
Fox’s “Prison Break,” which parlayed its buzz into a second season, was conceived by Paul Scheuring, who began with an idea from producer Francette Kelley: A man deliberately gets sentenced to prison in order to mastermind a breakout.
“I had to build up that world to justify it,” Scheuring said.
Thus, the government conspiracy, the wrongly convicted man on death row, the relationship between brothers Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows and Scofield’s now-famous blueprint tattoo.
Given the unique premise, one might think the idea had a tough road from script to series, but that wasn’t the case.
“Fox bought it in the room,” Scheuring said. “I only took it to Fox. And that was a year before ‘Lost’ did big numbers for ABC.”
So what makes “Prison Break” stand out in a TV landscape littered with such serialized dramas?
“To be honest, I have no idea,” Scheuring says. “’24’ is pretty straightforward. And while we’re very earnest in our storytelling, we add a lot of subversive humor. We’re like a glorified graphic novel. The audience has really embraced our anti-heroes.”
Of course, none of this would have worked without the right actors, and “Prison Break” had one of the truly buzzworthy casts of last year’s new crop of shows, led by one of the season’s standout stars, Wentworth Miller.
Scheuring considers himself fortunate to have found Miller.
“He’s not like anybody else, and he brings a great deal of integrity and mystery to the role,” Scheuring says.
That’s not to say the casting process was easy. “We did not have a Michael or a Lincoln six days before we started to shoot,” Scheuring said. “And we didn’t cast Dominic (Purcell) as Lincoln until three days before. A lot of stars just aligned the right way.”
So what happens now that the inmates are escapees?
“We can’t keep going to the well and using the elements that worked before,” Scheuring explains. “Season two is a wide-open panorama, with adventures along the way — sort of a Don Quioxte on the run. And I’m conceptualizing season three now.”
Best episode: The penultimate episode was a nail-biter, knowing that they were finally going to get out but still having to watch roadblocks get thrown in their way.
Most complex character: Dr. Tancredi had the most surprising backstory and the most inner conflict. For all the other characters, the end (escape) justified the means, but she had more muddied motivations for her actions — feelings for Scofield, resentment toward her father, overcoming a sordid past …
What should happen next season: We should get to know the escapees’ families and learn more about the men and what “life on the outside” is all about for each of them.