- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

A breakout hit

Anyone who thinks Fox is going to lay off the high-intensity dramas until “24” returns in January should tune in for tonight’s two-hour premiere of “Prison Break.”

Imagine a combination of HBO’s “Oz” (minus the nudity and profanity) and “The Great Escape” — only with a more detailed and procedural escape plan.

The series stars Wentworth Miller as Michael Scofield, a structural engineer from Chicago who finds out his brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), is scheduled to be executed by the state of Illinois for an assassination that Scofield doesn’t believe he committed.

In order to save his brother’s life and gain the time needed to prove his innocence, Michael develops and undertakes an elaborate plan to break his brother out of prison — from the inside. First, he holds up a bank and manages to be placed in the same prison — lucky for him — alongside his brother.

Once inside, Mr. Scofield reveals an extremely intricate escape plot that involves not only befriending suspicious inmates and faking a disease, but also the not-so-simple act of staying alive in a maximum security prison.

The series features great work from Robin Tunney as Veronica Donovan, an attorney and former girlfriend of Burrows who becomes Scofield’s only connection to the outside world. Other standouts include Peter Stomare as John Abruzzi, a former mob boss; Stacey Keach as Warden Pope; and Amaury Nolasco as Sucre, Scofield’s cellmate.

Fox spared no expense in getting the series off the ground, placing high-profile director Brett Ratner (upcoming “X-Men 3,”Rush Hour,” and “Red Dragon”) behind the camera for the pilot and keeping him on board as one of the show’s executive producers.

Unbelievable plotlines aside (What happens if he gets sent to another prison?), “Prison Break” is as gripping as any episode of “24” and is guaranteed to have viewers checking in each week to figure out how Scofield finally makes it out of the Big House — if he ever does.

Ahoy, mate

Just before moviegoers get their second dose of “Pirates of the Caribbean” in the sequel “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” the Hallmark Channel is bringing TV viewers its own swashbuckling actioner with “Blackbeard,” Reuters news agency reports.

Angus Macfadyen, Richard Chamberlain, Stacy Keach and Rachel Ward have been tapped to star in the four-hour miniseries, described as a slightly fictionalized take on the tales of the pirate Blackbeard.

The series is set to debut on the small screen in June — just ahead of the July 7 release of Disney’s “Pirates” sequel starring Johnny Depp.

‘24’ tweaking

Fox isn’t taking chances with the fifth season of “24.”

The network has announced a bevy of cast additions and promised the return of some old favorites, too.

“Lord of the Rings” mainstay Sean Astin, along with Jean Smart (“Designing Women”) and Connie Britton are joining the show, which returns in January.

The series’ “day five” will kick off with four episodes spread over two nights beginning Jan. 8. “24” then settles into its regular Monday time slot at 9 p.m.

The new season will take place 18 months after the events of season four. That day found Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) leading the Counter Terrorist Unit to foil a plan to detonate a nuclear bomb in a major American city.

The new day finds Jack living with a woman (played by Miss Britton) and her son away from the madness surrounding CTU until, we assume, duty calls. Miss Smart, who is assembling an impressive lineup of roles — including an appearance in the 2004 feature film “Garden State” — will be cast as the first lady to the uninspiring President Logan, played by Gregory Itzin. Show stalwarts Louis Lombardi (Edgar Stiles), Roger Cross (Curtis Manning) and Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O’Brian) are also set to return.

Compiled by Thomas Walter and Christian Toto from staff, Web and wire reports.

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