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FALL TV PREVIEW | `JERICHO'

Life after the bomb

September 17, 2006|Martin Miller | Times Staff Writer

NUCLEAR devastation can be a tough sell, particularly on a weekly series.

So the creators of "Jericho," a tale about a small Midwestern town that survives a nuclear attack, weren't surprised when their premise met with heaps of rejection. More than a half-dozen networks passed on the project until CBS finally greenlighted the show, which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

"Everybody else thought it sounded like something Americans wouldn't want to watch," said Jon Turteltaub, one of the show's executive producers. "All they heard was scary, bad, death and destruction. But CBS was able to hear hope and survival."

The show is far less about a nuclear catastrophe than how members of a small, contained society interact in a new world.

"What is justice when you are personally responsible for it?" asked Turteltaub, who directed the mid-'90s feature films "While You Were Sleeping" and "Phenomenon." "What is racism when there is no institutional racism, just you? What is sexism, what is divorce?"

Two writers pitched Turteltaub the idea of a nuclear attack wiping out the country's major cities and leaving the small ones intact. "There's something very pleasant about all the noise from L.A. and New York just going away," said Turteltaub. "There's something exciting about a survival story where you get back to a simpler life where neighbors matter.

In a clip on the CBS website for "Jericho," executive producer Stephen Chbosky emphasizes that the show isn't all doom and gloom.

"People make jokes on the darkest day of their lives," he said. "That's how we cope, so hence humor is going to be a big part of 'Jericho,' just because it's a big part of life."

And don't expect a quick resolution into the origins of the nuclear blasts. "That's a mystery," Turteltaub said, "that will continue for a long time."

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martin.miller@latimes.com

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