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Feature: Alias - JJ Abrams

Also Known As…

Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan: Vaughn and Sydney investigate He's more than happy doing the jobs of five people… but we're just glad that JJ Abrams created Alias, the spy-fi series starring Jennifer Garner that's simply one of the best genre shows currently on TV…

In the TV and film industry, the people thought to be the most powerful are the ones considered a ‘triple threat', people who not only act but also write and direct too. This must leave JJ Abrams in a class of his own, being not only all of the above but also a composer and producer. Just over three years ago, he created the hit WB series Felicity (reaching its conclusion this year), but his latest project, for the US ABC network, is Alias, a series of high-octane and tightly-scripted adventures about Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner), a graduate student who also happens to be a spy working for a secret government organization called SD-6. Or so she first believes...

Abrams explains that the premise for Alias came to him while working on Felicity. "It came about out of frustration in finding stories to write about on Felicity because there was no franchise, there was no crime or law or medicine or vampires or politics, there were no stories coming to our characters. It was a show about very sweet, romantic characters going through their college lives, so it didn't really lend itself to high drama... So I was just sort of joking that if Felicity were recruited by the CIA, you would suddenly have this wealth of stories you could do, and though I knew you could never do that on Felicity, it occurred to me that it could be another series.

"It was an oddly smooth process where I pitched the rough idea, I started outlining the script and then I wrote it, turned it in, and they said, ‘Who do you want to direct it?' Without having thought it through very well, I said, ‘Me', and suddenly we were making the pilot."

"I wanted to make sure that Alias wasn't VIP [Pamela Anderson's current star ‘vehicle'], that it wasn't so simplistic: sexy girl as spy," explains Abrams of the decision to muddy the usually clear waters of plotting. "Obviously anything that would prevent people from tuning in troubles me, but on the other hand our ratings are going up, we've been getting more and more letters from new viewers who are just trying to watch and are hooked by the show, and ABC's Family cable channel is re-running old episodes, which I think is helping people pick up on it. And the truth is, if you started watching the show tonight and you'd never seen it, I think what you would find is a compelling story.

"Right now we're working on next year. When you do the first year of a show, you're creating everything: nothing was there before, who the characters are, where they go, what they say, what they're wearing, what their attitudes are, what their jobs are, where they live, what they want, what they can't get. Everything from the smallest detail to the largest macro view, everything is new. The second year of a show, in many ways the hardest year, is really about keeping that alive and having it be something that evolves." But is there a conclusion to the story arcs running through the first season? "There have been conclusions along the way just in the stories, but the end of this year ends with a cliffhanger I've been waiting all year to do," Abrams teases...

by Paul Spragg

Read the full feature in:
Cult Times #80

Alias image © Touchstone Television / ABC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2002. Not for reproduction

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Cult Times #80, see below for ordering options
Cult Times #80
May 2002
ships from Apr 25 2002
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