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Winds of Change

7/29/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Clearly, the success of Lost is the most obvious reason why so many sci-fi/fantasy/mystery series will be all over prime time in the fall.

But if you talk to Shaun Cassidy, the creator of ABC's Invasion—which the network will pair with Lost in September—there's something else at play that has its antecedents in a post-9/11 world. Invasion, Cassidy says, is “trying to solve the problems in the world in a little community in the aftermath of a hurricane.” His well-wrought pilot is informed by living in a world where the specter of an unseen enemy is a fact of life. Sometimes in prime time, the influence is overt, such as the New York City firefighters on FX's Rescue Me and the soldiers fighting in Iraq in that network's new series Over There. Other times, the post-9/11 influence we see on the tube is more subtle.

“We're living in an aftermath world,” says Cassidy, addressing a sea of scribes at the Television Critics Association's summer powwow at the Beverly Hilton. “Very, very, very terrible tragedies have come, and there hasn't been a rulebook for the aftermath. In Invasion, the cast has all gone through a hurricane and survived. How they come to terms with their own survival is what our show is about.”

The 46-year-old Cassidy obviously has traveled far from his days as the teen idol star of The Hardy Boys series. Invasion is just the latest in a career in which he has created some smart series that have tended to do better with critics than with the Nielsens, including the short-lived American Gothic (CBS) and Hollyweird (Fox). It will be a marketing challenge for ABC to make sure Invasion doesn't get lost among the other Lost wannabes set to launch, from CBS' Threshold to NBC's Fathom. Having Lost as a lead-in could prove a blessing or a curse. Fans of the genre will be teed-up, although, given the quality of Lost, expectations will be high. But if Cassidy produces a series as strong as his pilot and he has read the national zeitgeist right, Invasion may be the one newbie to cut through the clutter.

“The country is at war,” he says. “There's a red country and a blue country out there. There's very clearly drawn lines of divisiveness in the world, and who's an alien is kind of a subjective thing. I'm not making a political statement with the show. But it is certainly in the air and in my head and heart, and that's going to come out on the page.”

The post-hurricane town of Homestead in Invasion—where some survivors are not who they seem—isn't so much about lurking alien monsters as it is an allegory for these troubled times. “In the show, there's an allegorical situation where some characters perceive a conspiracy is afoot and are feeling like they may be losing control,” says Cassidy. “We are living in a society where a lot of things are being taken away from us for our own protection. We start wondering, who's the good guy? Who's the bad guy?”

At its heart, too, Invasion is a series about families and how they deal with upheaval, he says: “The invasion is the hurricane. The invasion is the new stepfather in your home, the baby in your body, those orange things in the water. The invasion is change and how we acclimate, how we respond and survive against pretty formidable odds. I know that's broad and sounds highfalutin, but it's sort of what it is.”

E-mail comments to bcrobins@reedbusiness.com

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