- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

Vanished’ shouldn’t

The mercury has barely budged during the last couple of weeks, but the fall television season is already upon us — at least on Fox.

The network is the first to present its autumn lineup, while most others will premiere their big shows in September. Tonight at 8 p.m. on Fox, “Prison Break” begins its second season. Following at 9 p.m. is the series premiere of “Vanished,” a new hourlong crime drama.

“Vanished” will follow, “24”-style, a single story line throughout the season. In tonight’s episode, Sara Collins (Joanne Kelly) is kidnapped from a gala event in Atlanta at which she’s being honored for her charity work. The 30-year-old is the second wife of prominent Georgia senator Jeffrey Collins (John Allen Nelson). Sara gets along with her stepson, Max (John Patrick Amedori), but has had some sort of falling out with her stepdaughter, Marcy (former Russian competitive gymnast Margarita Levieva, whose hair is confusingly a little too similar to that of Miss Kelly’s on the show).

It seems unlikely the second-grade teacher had any enemies, but her husband might. The president is putting pressure on the senator to vote with the party for a Supreme Court nominee. But Sara seems more mysterious as the hour unfolds. Why does a man in a bar see her picture on television and call her Nicky Johnson? And why did Sara’s previous disappearance, which a reporter uncovers, result in no press coverage or police file?

“Vanished” was created by Josh Berman, who was an executive producer of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” for six years. The new show has a bit of the behind-the-scenes, inside-the-science forensics of “CSI,” but the emphasis in “Vanished” seems to be on the human mystery, of which there’s plenty just in the first episode. It’s clear this story will take an entire season to unravel.

Investigating the case are FBI Senior Agent Graham Kelton (Gale Harold) and his female partner Agent Len Mei (Ming-Na). Agent Kelton is of the usual hardheaded variety. Everyone thinks he’s a surprising choice for such an important case. “He’s a U.S. senator. He’s criticized the bureau in the past,” Agent Mei warns before introducing him to Sen. Collins. “So?” “So,” she says, “I’m asking for you to use a little nuance.”

Mr. Harold played Wyatt Earp on “Deadwood” and Brian Kinney on “Queer as Folk.” He’s a solid anchor for the large cast as the troubled but determined investigator. Ming-Na, who spent four years as a doctor on “ER,” plays what the higher-ups hope will be a calming influence on him. One of those higher-ups is Esai Morales, best known from “NYPD Blue.” It’s nice to see him back on television.

The FBI’s work is complicated by ambitious young television reporter Judy Nash, who sees the case as a way to make her career. Rebecca Gayheart (the Noxzema Girl) plays her with a combination of steeliness and sex appeal.

Tonight’s premiere was directed by Mimi Leder, who helmed the feature films “Pay It Forward and “Deep Impact.” She gives the show the look of a movie, the camera moving quickly to keep up with all the action.

“Vanished,” with its hints of conspiracies to come, looks like it’ll be one of this season’s best serial dramas. And it’s the sort of show you’re going to want to watch from the beginning. So if you’re intrigued, tune into Fox tonight at 9.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance from staff and Web reports.

TBS’ short bites

A new microseries called “Love Bites” will debut Sept. 13 on TBS, Cynopsis reports.

Each episode of the show, which follows the romance of twentysomething couple Katie and Max, will be 2 minutes long. It will air weeknights after “Sex and the City” and after the 10 p.m. programming block on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as during the day Monday through Friday. Sixty-five of the 82 episodes will air over 13 weeks; the remaining 17 will be distributed via nontraditional platforms, including in-store, e-mail, online and mobile wireless.

Viewers will be able to blog with the actors, view new and different episodes and tour Katie’s apartment at either lovebites.com or gethairapy.com.

Variety says this is “arguably the first time a cable show has been crafted for the new-media landscape.” The magazine reports that the short format is based on the French-Canadian show “Love Bugs,” which aired in Canada for six years.

“Love Bites” is sponsored by Unilever’s new Sunsilk hair product line. There will be no actual product placement in the show but rather sponsor identification in the credits.

“Love Bites” is produced by “Mad About You” star Paul Reiser’s Nuance Productions; Mr. Reiser is credited as the writer of the show on Internet Movie Database.

Ad agency JWTwo Entertainment, a co-producer on behalf of its client Unilever, has had a second project, the animated “Flex and Zephyr,” picked up by Comedy Central. “Flex and Zephyr” has not yet been linked to a particular product.

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