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The duality extends to Britten’s work, where he investigates cases with two partners (Steve Harris, Wilmer Valderrama) and discovers that straddling different realities gives him crime-busting insights.

While other TV shows with parallel universes and outcomes have dabbled in extreme explanations — quick, explain “Lost” again — Mr. Gordon and creator Kyle Killen insist this is a (relatively) simple case of a guy living one life and dreaming another.

Britten and the audience are just not sure which is which. Neither are the therapists who are treating him, with both assuring him that his other life is the dream. He’s unwilling to give up the balancing act that allows him to keep hold of both wife and son.

“At the center of it is the question we all live with as people, which is how do we face loss and how do we live in the face of loss,” Mr. Gordon said.

When the pilot was being developed, Mr. Isaacs said, there was concern the idea was so tricky, his character might need to be bearded in one world and beardless in the other to help viewers distinguish between them.

“But my daughter, who’s 5, told me the story in three sentences,” Mr. Isaacs recalled. “So I told the producers, ‘We don’t need to worry.’ It’s such a powerful and imaginative premise.”

While keeping a grip on his sanity, Britten is trying to prove to his superiors that he’s fit for work and trying to help his grieving wife and son cope with their losses.

“We want him to put his life back together and have his wife and son,” Mr. Killen said. “You and he become invested in those two worlds.”

Elements from one world sometimes cross over to the other, Mr. Killen said. That raises the intriguing notion that the two ultimately may merge, but the producers aren’t saying.

“Awake” employs a classic trick to allow viewers to dip in at any point: It’s what Mr. Gordon calls an “old-school title sequence” that restates the concept before each episode.

“So if you tune in for episode seven, you have the tools to sit down and enjoy that hour of television,” Mr. Gordon said. “For an idea like this, clarity is your friend and you want to make the barrier as low as possible.”

CEO: Netflix will look more like a cable channel

In case there was any doubt that Netflix sees itself as a competing TV channel, CEO Reed Hastings said Tuesday that in the future he might want it to be included as part of a bundled cable package.

Mr. Hastings said it’s getting tougher to convince cable TV to share rights to their shows — “they’re just being good capitalists” — so Netflix has been striking more exclusive deals with content creators and paying cable-TV prices to do so, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Plus, it has been creating more content of its own.

Mr. Hastings was speaking at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco.

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