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TiVo the apocalypse!

September 24, 2006

THE WORLD IS IN DEEP TROUBLE. Your neighborhood is in deep trouble. And have you checked your children? Threatened by global terrorism, domestic unrest and general ne'er-do-wells who hate our way of life or, barring that, just want our way of life or, barring that, just want our money, Americans need to watch out.

At least that's the gist of a notable portion of the fall TV season.

Doom is not only impending; like an unending war on terror, it takes time to unfold. The days of a plot foiled, or a crime solved, within the hour are coming to an end. Building on the serialized success of "24" and "Lost," many new shows are doomsday soap operas that require a cultish following.

This doomsday agenda is put forth most overtly in "Jericho," which premiered Wednesday night on CBS and tells the story of a small Kansas town that survives a nationwide nuclear attack. If the whole premise feels very Reagan era (think 1983's apocalyptic miniseries "The Day After"), it is. But it also taps into renewed end-of-days anxieties. There's a lot of business around duct tape, several unsubtle references to lax emergency preparedness and, thanks to a total communications shutdown, no clear sense of who the enemy is. Presumably it's not the Russians (this is set in the present), but is it Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, midget aliens from a dwarf planet?

In a post-9/11 world, we really can't be sure who to fear most. In NBC's "Kidnapped," which also premiered Wednesday, the son of a staggeringly wealthy Manhattan couple is abducted by a mysterious cartel of thugs. Meanwhile, ABC's much-buzzed-about thriller, "The Nine," starting Oct. 4, focuses on nine mostly strangers who get caught in a 52-hour hostage takeover at a bank in downtown L.A. "The events of this day will alter the lives of nine people forever," the promos tease.

When they hear the phrase "the events of," millions of Americans think of 9/11, and for television creators it's tempting to capitalize on our heightened sense of dread. Or at least on a renewed appreciation that any given day can indeed alter your life forever.

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