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The Case of Double Vision for NBC and Fox

Television: The networks will unveil series that have uncanny similarities. But producers of 'Profiler' and 'Millennium' say there are differences and aren't planning changes.

July 27, 1996|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Coming to your television this fall: A troubled ex-FBI agent who can "see" murders through the eyes of the killer pursues serial murderers while waging a personal battle of wits with an unknown stalker.

Also coming to your television this fall: A troubled ex-FBI agent who can "see" murders through the eyes of the killer pursues serial murderers while waging a personal battle of wits with an unknown stalker.

No, you're not seeing double.

But viewers may think they have double vision when Fox and NBC unveil their respective dramas of deadly visions, "Millennium" and "Profiler."

"Millennium," about an investigator with the ability to tap into the criminal mind, is the highly anticipated new series from "X-Files" creator Chris Carter that will air in the "X-Files" time period (9 p.m. Fridays) starting in October.

"Profiler," about a female forensic psychologist who can visualize murders through the eyes of the killer and the victim, is part of NBC's new Saturday science-fiction slate.

"I saw 'Millennium' and I couldn't believe it," Nancy Miller, "Profiler's" co-executive producer, proclaimed when asked about the coincidence that two shows on different networks could be so much alike. "My mouth was on the floor."

Executives at Twentieth Television, which is producing "Millennium," said they were equally astonished by "Profiler," especially since such pains were taken to keep the details of Carter's series under wraps.

It is not unusual for TV shows with similar themes to turn up at the same time--the most recent example being the Chicago hospital settings of "Chicago Hope" and "ER" in 1994. But the pilot episodes of "Millennium" and "Profiler" go far beyond the basic concept.

Both central characters have a young daughter; both are motivated to confront evil because hiding from it did not make their loved ones or the world any safer. Both shows feature killers who cite divine retribution in targeting victims. Both have almost identical "twist" endings.

In "Millennium," Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) returns to Seattle with his wife and daughter after years of solving brutal murders have taken their toll. But he has joined the Millennium Group, an underground confederation of agents dedicated to fighting "the growing forces of darkness" in society.

In "Profiler," forensic psychologist Sam Waters (Ally Walker) is living in retirement in a rural area of Georgia with her daughter because, after years of solving murders, she lost her husband at the hands of a serial killer. But she is lured back to work by an insistent former colleague.

The pilot for "Millennium," which was shot last March in Seattle, and "Profiler," which was shot last April in Atlanta, are similar in still other respects:

* Both Black and Waters "see" the crimes they are investigating in quick-flashing, vivid images.

* Colleagues of both Black and Waters are dismissive of their investigative "gifts."

* Following a vicious murder and then an attempted murder in "Millennium," an investigator tells Black, "18 years, and I don't think I've seen anything as terrifying as what I saw tonight." Following a vicious murder in "Profiler," an investigator tells Waters, "I've been doing this for 10 years, and I've seen my share. But this guy scares me."

* Both Black and Waters struggle with their decisions to go back into investigating murders. Black tells a friend that he and the Millennium Group cannot "sit and hope for a happy ending." Waters, while talking to a friend, comes to the realization that she cannot stand by and watch people die.

* The killer in "Millennium" uses quotes from William Butler Yates. The killer in "Profiler" uses quotes from Shakespeare.

There is no evidence to indicate that one show was aware of or intentionally copied elements of the other. The creators of the two series, who have never met, said they came up with the idea for their shows in response to the increasing, horrifying violence in society.

*

NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield said he too was surprised when he compared the two shows, but not overly so, given the popularity of the dark crime genre. "It's an example of different people in different places going after the same territory," he said.

Indeed, both shows address themes explored in several feature films: 1986's "Manhunter," which focused on an ex-FBI agent who is troubled by the ability to put himself into the mind of a serial killer, quits his job but then is compelled to return to duty to catch a vicious murderer; 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs," about a female FBI agent who tries to catch a serial killer by connecting with another murderer, the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter (who also figured in "Manhunter"); and 1996's "Seven," in which two policemen pursue a serial killer who is using the Seven Deadly Sins as a blueprint to pick his victims.

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