Issue 34

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Azhria Lilu

The Alias Newsletter Sunday Edition

A quick (although not short) article to get you hyped up for tonight’s

ABC's Latest Mission? Hyping 'Alias' to crowds.
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Terrorists, torturers and a troubled family
background aren't enough to stop super spy Sydney Bristow. Her greatest
escapade is about to take place right after this year's Super Bowl.

Whether she succeeds or fails in her mission that night is less
important than how many people watch her do so - and decide to watch

Agent Bristow is the lead character on "Alias," an adventure drama
airing on Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) turnaround-mode ABC network, and her
ultimate victory or demise hinges on executives at the Alphabet Network
transforming the show from a cult fave to a massive hit.

Putting "Alias" on after the Super Bowl - perhaps the best-watched TV
event of the year and often a temporary rating booster - is part of a
"big push" to ensure the program becomes "a big, long-running hit
drama," says Steve Sohmer, the network's executive vice-president of

Will "Alias" thrive or die? Ultimately, says Tim Spengler, an executive
vice president and director of national broadcast at Interpubic Group of
Cos.' (IPG) Initiative Media, "the unwashed masses across the whole
country will decide."

Gripping Episode

Meanwhile, viewers can expect to be dazzled as "Alias" vies for their
attention. The episode airing after the big football game "starts with a
spectacular opening," says J.J. Abrams, the program's creator and
executive producer, and ends with "the single most shocking thing you'll
see on TV this year."

Already, however, ABC has expressed concern over the drama's
sophomore-year performance. "As well as the show does for us, it should
be doing better, given the quality," said Lloyd Braun, chairman of ABC's
entertainment group, during a conference call after the November sweeps.
"If anything, we've got to make the show more receptive to non-viewers."

"Alias" stars Jennifer Garner as a twentysomething CIA operative who
realizes she knows less and less about her family, friends and enemies
the more and more she deals with them. Like the title, nothing on the
program is what it seems. Bristow works for the CIA but spends her days
spying on a rogue operation known as SD-6, which bills itself as a CIA
offshoot in order to play on its employees' patriotic leanings. By many
accounts, "Alias' is everything ABC needs - a clever fusion of
espionage, family drama, gadgets, disguises, exotic travel, humor, a
breakout starlet and spiraling subplots that keep loyal fans coming back
week after week.

The last element may give ABC pause. Like "24," an action series that
takes place in real time on News Corp.'s (NWS) rival Fox, "Alias" can be
tough to follow if a viewer skips an episode or two. "It's not a show
you can watch passively or you can watch hit-or-miss," says Jack Sander,
executive vice president of media operations for Belo Corp. (BLC), which
owns four ABC affiliates. "You almost have to stay with it all the time.
You couldn't have said that about 'ER' five years ago or so."

Of course, complex storytelling isn't the only challenge. On TV, Sunday
nights have become as competitive as Thursday nights. For most of this
season, "Alias" has had to contend not only with "The Sopranos" on AOL
Time Warner Inc.'s (AOL) HBO, but also "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" on
General Electric Co.'s (GE) NBC and teen favorite "Angel" on WB, owned
by AOL and Tribune Co. (TRB).

"With 'The Sopranos' out of the mix, and 'Angel' moved to Wednesday, I
think ABC will have a better chance of seeing what 'Alias' can do," says
Pattie Glod, vice president of marketing and media for Limited Brands
Inc. (LTD), which advertises for Victoria's Secret during "Alias."

The network may need to know soon, suggests Kathryn Thomas, an associate
director at Publicis Groupe SA's (PUB) Starcom Entertainment. Simply
put, "Alias" isn't cheap, she says, costing between $1.5 million and
$1.7 million an episode, according to one estimate. Because it is
produced by Disney's Touchstone Television, ABC and Disney likely bear
full financial responsibility.

Show-Biz Economics

"It's an expensive show to produce. Jennifer Garner has been made a star
because of this, and will only get more expensive," says Thomas. "If
they can't find a viable financial model this season," she adds, "Alias"
could very well "go away."

ABC disputes that notion. "The shows that are really expensive are shows
that have gone through one cycle, and then have a chance to renegotiate
their whole talent structure," says ABC's Sohmer. "I don't know whether
it's expensive or not, but it's not expensive compared to 'The West
Wing' and some of those others."

Nevertheless, ABC might want to look into ways to make "Alias" pay off a
little faster, suggests Thomas. A DVD of the first season could give the
show a promotional boost - and a financial one. And repurposing "Alias"
on cable's ABC Family channel may not be the best use of the program,
she says; at times, "Alias" can be sexy and violent.

For his part, Abrams is aware of some of the challenges. "There is some
truth to the confusion factor, but I love the show so much that the last
thing I would do is dumb it down," he says. "There is a difference
between dumbing it down and eliminating unnecessary confusion." Viewers
can expect subtle shifts in the storytelling, he says, that bring Sydney
and her CIA handler, Vaughn, together romantically. What's more, the
show will demonstrate more clearly who Sydney's enemies are, never an
easy task.

"Ultimately, the show is a mystery, and that's kind of the fun of it,"
says Abrams, "but in a mystery, if you don't know who you are, it goes
from being a mystery to being a mess. That, to me, is something we're
going to be able to deal with."

Expect lots of "Alias" promotion over the next few months, says Sohmer,
on ABC as well as in print and on radio. Promotions for the show focus
on "the foreground adventure, the caper," he says. "The adventure of the
week is a real potboiler, with a beginning, middle and an end." Ongoing
subplots take a back seat. After the Super Bowl, ABC hopes to attract
new viewers, and then keep them. "You can look for us to be hammering
away," he says, through February and March.

Meanwhile, ABC might enjoy an added boost when the 20th Century Fox
super-hero movie "Daredevil" comes out on Feb. 14 - "Alias" star Garner
has a featured role as the knife-throwing assassin Elektra. "Getting her
out on the talk-show circuit, getting her into promotional places could
help a lot," says Belo's Sander. If so, then "Alias" may well be armed
for its most harrowing assignment - staying on the air.

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Have a great Sunday and enjoy Alias!