Voris said putting the show together has been an educational process for everyone involved. The writing room is full of impassioned political debate and the divergent views eventually find their way into the scripts and story lines along with references to Al Qaeda, Guantanamo Bay and Britney Spears.
Indeed, the scripts are so realistic that some said they fear either being personally identified with terrorists, being seen as an enemy of the terrorists, or having to carry the weight of an entire Muslim community tired of being mistaken for extremists.
After the pilot was picked up, Ealy said, he started feeling pressure when he learned he was the pioneering fictional representative of mainstream Muslims in the U.S.
Following a recent panel at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills, Ealy was approached by a man who said he was a writer, but a "Muslim first." After praising the pilot, the writer told him, "I'll be watching you," said Ealy, who appreciates what he has learned about Islam but cleaves to his Southern Baptist roots. The writer murmured the traditional Muslim salutation, which Ealy returned: "Assalum mailaka" ("peace be with you").
Others say even performing or watching the show is frightening. "It's almost like I want to take a shower afterwards," Fehr said. "My wife loves me to death. She can't watch it."
The Israeli-born Fehr, who is Jewish and served in the Israeli army, said he worried about taking on the character of the brutal Farik but was encouraged by his brother in Israel, who reminded him it was challenging -- and fictional work.
On the other hand, director Ziad Doueiri ("Lila Says"), a Lebanese-born nonpracticing Muslim, said he is sure some Muslims will criticize him for being involved in just one episode of "Sleeper Cell." "The extremists always say either you're 100% for us or 100% against us.... I got a call from a friend in Lebanon who said, 'Are you sure you want to do that?' "
Voris acknowledged that the show could serve to encourage paranoia as it seeks to educate and entertain. "Simultaneously, it's also making you look clearly at these things. Seeing something portrayed in pop culture makes it easier to deal with," he said.
"We're showing you that if someone is planning [a terrorist attack], the FBI has a guy out there to stop it." Although he is as frightened as anyone by his own creation, he said, "I go to bed feeling better when I watch the show."
Showtime, for its part, is prepared to reschedule the show if real-world events make it appear inappropriate or insensitive, said Robert Greenblatt, Showtime's president of entertainment.
In the end, " 'Sleeper Cell' is a very American program," Reiff said. While references may be ripped from the headlines, the London bombings are unlikely to be woven into the story line, partly because the nature of domestic terrorism is different in the U.S. than in Europe. "The nature of Muslim American communities is not as ghettoized as Muslim communities throughout Europe," he said.
Then he added: "That's not to say it can't happen in L.A."