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Last year's serial dramas left viewers hanging

Tracking down the dangling plotlines of ‘Day Break,’ ‘Traveler,’ 'Vanished' and more. By Wendell Wittler.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Coming into the 2006 fall TV season, all five broadcast networks were drooling over the success of such serialized dramas as “Lost,” “24” and “Prison Break.” So in 2006, serial dramas were the trend of the season, with all networks trying at least one.

Apparently the trend wasn't as easy to replicate as the networks had hoped. Of those serial shows, only NBC’s “Heroes,” became a hit and just one other, CBS’s “Jericho,” finished a full 22-episode season (and was saved by cancellation by a fan campaign that involved more peanuts than viewers).

The others suffered the all-too-common prime-time pattern of pre-emption,  hiatus, limbo, and eventually by cancellation. But these weren’t regular episodic shows. Each was telling a long, usually complicated, and often mysterious story.

The networks wouldn’t just cut off these stories in the middle, would they, leaving their dedicated and loyal viewers hanging without answers? Why, yes they would.

Fox dealt with some fan fuming in early 2006, when the network abruptly ended “Reunion,” a drama that was supposed to cover 20 years in the lives of its characters in 20 episodes, but was stopped eleven years short. So what do happens to a truncated series? There are as many answers as there were canceled shows.'DAY BREAK,' ABCThe plot: “The Fugitive” meets “Groundhog Day”. Taye Diggs plays a cop accused of murder who finds himself reliving the same day over and over, trying to find the real killer while his new actions retroactively effect the next repeat of the day. As if that weren’t confusing enough, he uncovers the truth behind his father’s (also a cop) death years before. Behind-the-scenes drama: "Day Break" was designed for a 13-week season, to be added to the schedule mid-season, when "Lost" took a break. It ended up being utilized earlier than expected when “The Nine” was pulled for low ratings, but didn’t do any better than the show it replaced.Aired episodes: Six (November-December 2006); Unaired episodes: Seven

Availability: All 13 episodes are at (plug-in required).Resolution? Yes! During the last episode, Diggs' character successfully crosses into the next day, clears his name and finds the real killers. But no explanation is offered as to how or why the time loop happened except for a hint from another character who may have been experiencing the same thing, leaving an opening for another season (but that ain’t gonna happen).

‘KIDNAPPED,’ NBC
The plot:
When the teenage son of an uber-wealthy couple (played by Timothy Hutton and Dana Delaney) was kidnapped, they hired a private “kidnapping and ransom expert” named Knapp (Jeremy Sisto) who tried to keep the FBI out of it, but, as with any long story, it got complicated. Behind-the-scenes drama: One of the better-reviewed series of the season, “Kidnapped” was also one of the lowest-rated. In its time slot, it even trailed behind “The Nine” which also got cancelled quickly. But NBC had the class to tell the producers to wrap up the story in 13 episodes, and the producers had a “contingency plan” prepared to do it. Aired episodes: Five in prime time (September-October 2006) and eight late-night Sunday/Monday morning (June-August 2007)

Availability: At press time, the final episode was available at , and the series has already been .

Resolution? The kidnapped kid is found and rescued by the end of episode 12, and after a long line of red herrings, the Big Bad Mastermind turns out to be one of the supposed good guys. No, it’s not the freelance Mr. Knapp or the FBI’s "last case before I retire" Agent King (Delroy Lindo). Those two do manage to crack the case simultaneously from two different directions, and save the day thanks to one of the longest "villain explains himself to his intended victim" speeches in TV history. Still, NBC must have liked what it saw even if nobody else did, because they’ve hired two of the show’s cast for roles in the long-long running “Law and Order.” Jeremy Sisto will be an NYPD detective while Linus Roache (the long-winded villain) goes to work in the D.A.’s office. Also, “Kidnapped” has been nominated for an Emmy — for its musical score (Composer: W.G. Snuffy Walden — he’s been doing it for decades). 

‘THE NINE,’ ABC
The plot:
The former hostages in a 52-hour bank robbery-standoff bond after their traumatic experience. But what exactly went on during that time period? Each episode includes a little bit of the original hostage drama and a lot of the aftermath. One of the hostages was shot and dies; another developed amnesia from the trauma. And one of the bank robbers develops an emotional connection to one of the hostages. Behind-the-scenes drama: Not much, just disappointing ratings in the time slot following the popular “Lost”. It was brought back in August to ‘burn off’ the unaired six episodes, but was pulled after two weeks in favor of  “NASCAR in Primetime.” Burn!Aired episodes: Nine (October-November 2006, August 2007); Unaired episodes: Four

Availability: The four episodes that didn't air are available online via (plug-in required), but will be removed before ABC's official "Premiere Week" Sept. 24.Resolution? On the last episode before ABC pulled the show, it was learned that the bank robbers had 'an inside man.' Actually, they had two: the bank guard who was killed and Malcolm the bank manager, who confessed to his daughter when he realized that her traumatic amnesia was triggered by her discovering his involvement. As the final episode drew to a close, she was pleading with him not to turn himself in. Most of the rest of The Niners were involved in romantic entanglements that would have fueled much of the ongoing drama while the last thirty-some hours of the hostage drama remained unseen, with a final flashback scene showing the dawn of the second day of the standoff and Eva, the hostage who we already knew would not survive saying "We made it." If you can't have closure, use irony.

‘RUNAWAY,’ The CW
The plot:
Glibly summed up as “The Fugitive — With Children.” Donnie Wahlberg played a D.C. lawyer accused of a murder he didn’t commit, and who finds his family threatened by a mysterious conspiracy that wants him to plead guilty and shut up. Instead, he goes on the run, with wife (Leslie Hope, best known as Jack Bauer’s dead wife) and three kids in tow, setting up new lives, do-it-yourself-witness-protection-style, in the wilds of Iowa. The show’s drama was divided between Dad trying to clear his name without getting caught by the baddies or the cops, the kids trying to deal with life in a new town with Clark-Kent-in-Smallville-sized secret identity issues, and the FBI super-agent trying to track him down.

Behind-the-scenes drama: “Runaway” set two milestones for the newly-born CW network. It was the first show to debut there that had not previously been on the pre-merger WB or UPN nets, and four weeks and three episodes later it was the first show canceled from The CW. Its debut was clouded by the fact that it filled the time slot of fan favorite and critically approved “Everwood.” Aired episodes: Three (September-October 2006); Unaired episodes: Three

Availability: No, and unlikely in the future since there are fewer CW viewers who loved the show than who hated it for replacing “Everwood.” Resolution? No way. The three episodes that aired were barely enough to raise hints as to how big and bad the big, bad conspiracy was, and twice included plot misdirections of the “oh no he’s about to get caught ... no, wait, they’re after somebody else entirely” variety.

‘SIX DEGREES,’ ABCThe plot: This show may not belong with the others; there’s no kidnapping or hostage drama, nobody’s on the run, no big mystery to be solved and nothing supernatural happenings. (Although with executive producer J.J. Abrams, you never know if he might throw in a polar bear attack on Manhattan island.) The "Lost" creator instead returned to his relationship-drama roots (remember “Felicity”?), in this case with six people who have just met each other but eventually discover past connections they never realized. Behind-the-scenes drama: Disappointing ratings in the plum time slot after “Grey’s Anatomy” knocked the show out of the lineup after six weeks. When it was brought back in March, it was to Friday night and little interest. Aired episodes: Eight (September-November 2006, March 2007); Unaired episodes: Five

Availability: All 13 episodes are at (plug-in required).Resolution? Not really much to be resolved. By episode 13, they’ve all gotten to know each other somewhat and all have met someone from their past who they have in common with at least one of the others. (For most of them, it’s a guy named Ray) Enjoy the show in the knowledge that any cliffhanger isn’t going to be life-or-death.

‘TRAVELER,’ ABCThe plot: One more “Fugitive” variation, this time featuring two friends from Yale Law School who were on the run after a third chum, Will Traveler, apparently committed a terrorist act and left them holding the bag. Things were apparently not as they seem all over the place, and a fictionalized version of the Homeland Security Department apparently was involved.

Behind-the-scenes drama: “Traveler” was produced several months before it aired, and while episode seven was in production, the producers were told by the network that the 13-episode order was cut down to eight, resulting in a last-minute rewrite of number eight to include a bunch of what was planned in 9-13. Creator/Co-Executive Producer David DiGilio did a in which he was perpetually upbeat about the show’s future, but ABC president Stephen McPherson “we were disappointed in the way that that show creatively developed and (it) ended up being just not — not to the level that we thought it could succeed.” Ouch.

Aired episodes: All eight (May-July 2007)

Availability: All episodes are online at , and not at ABC’s Web site.Resolution: Apparently because of the producers’ misguided optimism, the final episode ended with another explosion that ruined our heroes’ plan to clear their names and sent them on the run again. They did reunite with the mysterious Will Traveler who explained himself as a now-disenchanted agent of a shadow government called “The Fourth Branch”, setting up a conspiracy story arc that the producers hoped would keep “Traveler” running for years.‘VANISHED,’ FOXThe plot: “Vanished” was Fox’s contribution to the booming “kidnapping/hostage drama” genre, in this case the kidnappee being the wife of a powerful U.S. Senator. The victim has a mysterious past (with a lost love who recognizes her from a news report), the senator’s daughter has a relationship with both a suspect in the kidnapping and a nominee for the Supreme Court, the senator’s previous wife gets involved, and then there’s a whole conspiracy thing about the Dead Sea Scrolls.  No, really. Behind-the-scenes drama: The show premiered with strong ratings, but lost viewers every week. On the last episode before being pre-empted by baseball playoffs for four weeks, the character of the lead FBI investigator was killed off, which, combined with a move to the usually deadly Friday 9 p.m. time slot, killed the series after two more episodes. After “Reunion,” Fox was under some pressure to give its viewers some closure for “Vanished,” so the remaining episodes were made available on the Web. Aired episodes: Nine (August-November 2006); Unaired episodes: Four

Availability: At the . Resolution? Well... the kidnap victim does escape her abductors, but after being brainwashed into believing the Senator didn’t want her back, goes back to her lost love, leaving the FBI with an unsolved case, while the Dead Sea Scrolls conspiracy seems to have failed, but there are more loose ends than an overturned truckload of bungee cords.  But a TV writer for the E! channel’s Web site has floated the possibility that will address the remaining mysteries (like how “X-Files” was used to provide closure for Chris Carter’s other show “Millennium”). is the online alias of a writer from Southern California.