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Serial drama 'Traveler' weathers the long road to getting on air

The ABC series, premiering tonight, has been on hold while similar shows crashed and burned.

(c) OC Register

May 10, 2007

By Aaron Barnhart, McClatchy Newspapers

It was almost a year ago, at New York's Lincoln Center, that the ABC network dazzled its audience of advertisers, station managers and the media with a mesmerizing clip from a new serial thriller that it had picked up for the 2006-07 season.

The show was called "Traveler," and in its opening episode, three best friends, all in their early 20s, are footloose and having fun in New York when a bomb goes off. Two of the friends realize that the third member of their party, Will Traveler, has vanished – but not before framing them in the terrorist attack. Let the chase begin.

I couldn't wait to see the finished episode, but as it turned out, ABC kept everyone waiting. This Thursday, 359 days after "Traveler" was unveiled and just 12 days before season's end, the show has finally arrived on the network's schedule.

"Traveler" will get one juicy hour in the post-"Grey's Anatomy" time slot (10 tonight). And then, if you can believe this, ABC isn't going to air another episode until May 30, after the regular season ends. Mind you, this is from a network that just promised "Lost" will air next season without taking a week off as it tries to hold onto that show's dwindling fan base.

Why is a worthy effort like "Traveler" getting such shabby treatment? For the same reason that "Drive," "The Black Donnellys" and "Day Break" all got the bum's rush this season: The networks overindulged in serials, the novelty of serials wore off, viewers got finicky – as viewers are wont to do when given a dozen varieties of the same thing – and a trend that became a fad turned into an expensive headache for the industry.

"Traveler" was the umpteenth program to be sold in recent years based on the remarkable success of serial dramas like "24," "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives." The fact that three of those shows aired on ABC should have given "Traveler" the inside edge to land a plum time period.

But that didn't happen, and it's clear the network's entertainment chief, Stephen McPherson, was having doubts about "Traveler" even as he was showing it off to the sponsors. McPherson didn't ask the cast and producers of "Traveler" to attend last summer's TV critics' press tour. And when given a second chance to parade the show before critics in January, McPherson again passed.

Meanwhile the new season had fewer bright spots than black holes. Though viewers flocked to "Heroes" and "Ugly Betty," audiences were less patient with other equally promising serials. "Kidnapped" was whisked into the back of a van and driven off, never to reappear. "The Nine" quickly became "The Zero."

As the carnage mounted, "Traveler's" creator, David DiGilio, must have known he was running out of luck. "Poor creators of serialized shows waiting in the wings had to bear the effects of that time," he told Variety last month.

It surely didn't help "Traveler's" fate that "Lost," the show that was most like "Traveler" in tone, was foundering all season long (though lately it seems to have found its way). And there weren't a lot of time slots available, given the success of "Brothers & Sisters," which settled in nicely as a companion to "Housewives" on Sundays, and "October Road," which has done well following "Grey's" on Thursdays, even topping its competition ("Shark" and "ER") in young- adult viewers recently.

But "October Road" is now gone for the season. Couldn't "Traveler" slip into its time slot for a few more weeks? Why doesn't ABC want that to happen? Who's behind this conspiracy?

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