From JS Online- another article that talks about the similarities between Alias and 24. Fans of '24,' 'Alias' follow twists, turns week after week By JOANNE WEINTRAUB Journal Sentinel TV critic Jack Bauer and Sydney Bristow have dodged bombs, bullets, murderous strangers and treacherous friends, but that's nothing compared to what their respective series have survived. Fox's "24," which stars Kiefer Sutherland as counterterrorism expert Bauer, and ABC's "Alias," starring Jennifer Garner as CIA agent Bristow, were launched a year and a half ago in one of the most unusual fall seasons TV has ever seen. No one really knew at the time what the shock waves from Sept. 11 would do. But the conventional wisdom was that drama series, already losing ground to reality TV, would come to seem trivial or hollow in the face of real-life catastrophe. "Alias" and "24" in particular, with complex, demanding plots and violence inherent to the stories, seemed to have dubious futures. Yet after slow starts and rumors of early cancellation, each series picked up enough viewers to be renewed for the following fall, making dozens of fan Web sites fairly vibrate with delight. Last month, with war growing closer and prime-time programming once again heading for an upset of unpredictable length and intensity, "Alias" and "24," which enjoy respectable but far from stellar ratings, were picked up for a third season. Sydney and Jack each have associates who've double-crossed them, but their network friends have been true-blue. Changing formats The ABC and Fox series represent a trend that is reshaping prime-time drama: the lengthening of plot lines over multiple episodes. "24," which covers one hour of an eventful day in each episode, spins a single story line out over an entire season. The even more complex "Alias" has been playing out a continuous plot since Week 1. These long story arcs make it somewhat intimidating for newcomers to sample a series and become fans, which may be one reason that more conventional dramas like "CSI," "ER," "NYPD Blue" and "Law & Order" dominate the top spots in the Nielsen ratings. But the serial dramas' fusion of suspense and character development exerts a powerful hold on viewers. "It's a very compelling way to tell a story," says Ron Simon, curator of television for New York's Museum of Television and Radio. "You might not have the larger numbers, but you do get a passionate group of fans." There's nothing new about serials, which have been part of the storyteller's art from Homer's "Odyssey" to early film's "The Perils of Pauline" and radio's "Stella Dallas." A few radio serials even made the leap to television, where they established a genre that came to dominate daytime, the soap opera. So firmly did the long story arc become linked to hot, sudsy domestic strife that the handful of prime-time serials that became popular in the '60s and '70s were quickly dubbed nighttime soaps. But, as Simon notes, "Peyton Place," "Dallas" and "Dynasty" were guilty pleasures. It took "Masterpiece Theatre" and "Hill Street Blues" to make the TV serial respectable. PBS approach The prestigious PBS anthology series, with early hits such as 1971's "Elizabeth R" and 1973's "Upstairs, Downstairs," gave serial dramas a sophisticated treatment and won an audience to match. "Hill Street Blues," which NBC launched in 1981, was even more influential. With some subplots resolving in an hour and others threading through weeks or even months, it brought a complexity to network drama that wasn't possible in shows where everything ended neatly at 9:55 p.m. Complexity demands concentration, and those with short attention spans will tune out. But those who keep tuning in are rewarded for their patience. "There's a richness to that kind of narrative that really hooks people," says Simon. In recent seasons, HBO's "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under" have ensnared viewers with cliffhanger plots and robust long-term character development. The characters of "NYPD Blue," "ER," "The West Wing" and a number of other network hits have their characters put out small fires from week to week, while long conflicts - professional, familial, romantic - smolder over the better part of a season. Disaster of the week With "Alias" and "24," on the other hand, the heat is usually on high. For the writers, no less than for agents Bristow and Bauer, it's out of the frying pan, into the fire. Ro bert Cochran, co-creator of "24," puts it a little differently. "We always feel," he says, "like we're up to our neck in alligators." Last season, in the course of 24 hours, Jack saved presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) from assassination while rescuing daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) - but not, tragically, wife Teri (Leslie Hope) - from the same fate. This season, it's another day, another catastrophe. This time, Bauer must stop Middle Eastern terrorists from blowing up Los Angeles. Cochran and fellow series creator Joel Surnow deliberately chose to skate close to the edge of reality this time. Even witha Middle Eastern war dominating real-world events, Cochran says they have no regrets. How do the writers keep the subplots from tangling? "Last season," says Cochran, "we had huge charts across a whole wall of a room saying what every (character) was doing from week to week. This year, for some reason, we've just found it easier to keep it in our heads." Over at "Alias," executive producer and writer John Eisendrath says the chart is still on the wall. For all the complexity and the occasional confusion, he says, he wouldn't trade the series' endless plots for anything. In one concession to simplicity, creator J.J. Abrams did make a crucial change this season: Sydney, formerly a double agent involved in an elaborate game to trick a master trickster, is now rid of the crisscross subplot, though not of a dozen other hazards. "People would tune in and be, like, 'Huh? I don't get it,' " Eisendrath says. Eisendrath says the writers have "some very broad, general ideas" about the focus of Season 3. Asked about the same topic, "24's" Cochran laughs. "I have absolutely no idea," he says. "We're still trying to make it through Season 2."