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‘Threshold’ enters TV’s alien threat genre

New drama stars Brent Spiner from ‘Star Trek’
/ Source: The Associated Press

The fear factor has invaded scripted TV, with several new prime-time dramas suggesting something alien has landed and probably wants to get us all.

One of these shows is “Threshold,” premiering 9 p.m. EDT Friday on CBS, which features a government team of experts trying to counteract that threat — while they too feel fear.

“Everyone I’ve ever known in my life, or seen, or met, or loved, or hated, is at risk of being destroyed. That’s a pretty big chunk of fear, and I think that’s what we are all dealing with, if we don’t save the day,” says Brent Spiner, describing the mission of his character, Dr. Nigel Fenway, and his cohorts.

Spiner, who was the android Data on the series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and four “Star Trek” movies, is more like himself — gray-haired, flippant, and makeup free — as Fenway, a brilliant microbiologist.

Carla Gugino, title star of the short-lived 2003 ABC series “Karen Sisco,” plays team member Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey, who organized a first-response unit when the U.S. Navy discovered an alien craft in the ocean.

“I’m really fascinated by someone who chooses worst-case scenarios as a profession. Someone who obviously thrives on crisis,” says Gugino.

Also on the team is Cavennaugh, played by Brian Van Holt, who describes his mysterious special-ops guy as “all business”; neurotic physicist Lucas Pegg, portrayed by Rob Benedict; and mathematician-linguist Arthur Ramsey, played by Peter Dinklage, star of the movie “The Station Agent.”

Supervising the bunch is Deputy National Security Adviser J.T. Baylock, played by Charles S. Dutton — an Emmy winner for his guest appearances on “The Practice” and “Without a Trace” — who describes his character as “the kind of guy that will under any circumstances and at all costs keep the lid on.”

All six are gathered this day in the Threshold Command Ready Room on a Paramount soundstage. Bland, gray-suited extras scurry through high-tech surroundings toting suitcases of field gear as the Threshold team exchanges information about investigation plans.

Diverse group tackles task at handBut there’s nothing bland or homogenous about the Threshold team — physically or emotionally. They’re black, white, tall, short, buff, slobby, fidgety, composed, concerned, skeptical, witty — yet all mesh in their own way with the task at hand.

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Responsible for picking this disparate ensemble were executive producers David Heyman, producer of all four of the Harry Potter movies; David Goyer, who scripted the “Blade” movies and co-wrote “Batman Begins”; and Brannon Braga, creator of “Star Trek: Enterprise” and executive producer of “Star Trek: Voyager,” series also shot at Paramount.

“These (actors) are names we never thought we would get,” remarks Braga.

“I think the level of ambition of this piece is something that attracted all of us,” says Gugino, “doing something in a genre where you can deal with supernatural elements, but really see them through the human beings.”

Like others in the cast, Gugino thinks there’s more than just the success of ABC’s spooky disaster serial “Lost” behind the rash of new shows about a mysterious threat, including ABC’s “Invasion,” the WB’s “Supernatural” and NBC’s “Surface.”

“I think we are in a place now in our world where so much is going on, and so many things we never thought could happen are happening, so I found what I read here very relatable,” says Gugino.

“There are trends in television and certainly when one show works everyone wants to see that, but I also think there is an element ... of fear in our country and the world right now,” adds Benedict. “But I also think there is something in science fiction that takes your mind off the world’s problems, some sort of relaxation that in a weird way makes you imagine the problems we have aren’t here, but are otherworldly.”