By Jennifer Pendleton
Special to TelevisionWeek
Is it surprising that a television series with the theme of aliens living among us would resonate with viewers in our post-9/11 world?
“The 4400” told the various stories of a large group of people, once abducted by aliens, now returned to Earth, not knowing where they’ve been. They all faced difficult readjustments. They were buffeted by loss and confronted with bigotry and public paranoia. Guest stars included Billy Campbell and Michael Moriarty.
About 5 million homes tuned in to this fresh take on an old theme on its opening night, Sunday, July 11. That made “The 4400” the highest-rated new series to premiere ever on basic cable, according to Jeff Wachtel, USA Network’s executive VP of original programming. During its five-week run, the limited series more than doubled the network’s usual Sunday evening performance-both in households and among viewers 18 to 49 and 25 to 54.
At first glance, “The 4400’s” subject matter and spooky atmospherics screamed science fiction or possibly action, promising likely male appeal. But the heart of the show was the human drama of these interrupted lives-among them an orphaned child, a man whose son was lost to him and a couple involved in an unexpected interracial love story. “That made it not a science-fiction show, but a show that had true broad appeal,” Mr. Wachtel said.
So it was with a vision of pulling in audiences of both sexes and all ages that USA promoted “The 4400.” Dramatic posters and commercials (including a healthy number on USA’s new sister company NBC) showed tiny mug shots of the returnees staring out in dazed anonymity. “Over the past 50 years, thousands of people have disappeared. This July, they’re back,” the materials teased.
USA last week made a deal to bring “The 4400” back as a regular series in June 2005. The new season will be produced by Paramount Network Television in association with American Zoetrope and Renegade 83.
Mr. Wachtel said that from his first read of the script, he felt “The 4400” had potential to be more than a one-shot.