BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — If "24's" Jack Bauer were to get himself sent to prison to help his wrongly convicted brother escape, it would look a lot like Fox's "Prison Break."
The first of the new "fall" shows jumps the gun with a two-hour premiere tonight at 7 on Fox/Ch. 13. The intent of "Break" is quite obviously to appeal to fans of that other show on the network that builds suspense from episode to episode.
"Last season, '24' had a great run at (8) o'clock on Mondays," said Fox Entertainment president Peter Ligouri. "And this fall, we have high hopes that our daring new drama 'Prison Break' will do the same."
Well, "daring" is a bit of a stretch — "Prison Break" (which will air at 8 p.m. beginning next week) doesn't exactly break any molds. But it is an intriguing premise of a series that shows some promise.
That premise is that Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) intentionally gets himself arrested for robbing a bank and sent to prison. He's got a plan, though. His brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), has been wrongly convicted of killing the brother of the vice president of the United States and is scheduled to be executed — but Michael has a plan to break the two of them out.
Turns out Michael is a structural engineer who remodeled the prison. And he has the plans to the place tattooed all over his body.
(Shot largely at Illinois' abandoned Joliet Prison, the location adds a huge amount to the production.)
The producers are quick to say that "Prison Break" has a lot more in common with movies like "The Great Escape" and "The Shawshank Redemption" than it does with HBO's violent, raunchy prison series "Oz."
"This story is ultimately about hope," said creator/writer/producer Paul Scheuring. "It's about the caper. It's about the mystery. It's all that stuff. This is not about the depravities of mankind."
"It is sometimes," executive producer Dawn Parouse interjected.
As the plot develops, it's a combination of not only the plot to escape from the prison but the plot that landed Lincoln in prison for that crime he didn't commit. And that plot will lead all the way into the White House.
"I won't tell you when, but we're going to see it," Scheuring said.
Scheuring is quick to say that he's not winging it. He has a plan, not only for this season but — if the ratings are good — several seasons to come.
"The model is going to be very much like 'The Great Escape' in which we spend X amount of time within the actual walls, and thereafter we're going to break quite a number of people out and scatter them into the winds, and they're going to go to the four corners of the country in planes, trains and automobiles," Scheuring said.
So . . . there's no suspense about if they will escape, only when and how. And, of course, what happens after that.
"We're not going to tell you when they break out," Scheuring said. "There is a larger canvas here, and it is longer than a season. It stretches to two and three. It's not going to be something like '24' where we're perpetually inventing a new obstacle to overcome with each successive season. Season two will be just the escalation of season one."
At this point, only 13 episodes have been ordered — which is commonplace for a new series — but the producers are planning on a 22-episode season. Which would mean that "Break" would either be delayed in the middle of its season or be moved to another night to accommodate "24's" return in January.
"If the audience is invested in the characters, I think that season two will be quite a wild ride and in a very different look than season one."
Assuming there is one.
MILLER'S FAKE TATTOO covers just about every inch of him between his waist and his neck and takes between four and five hours for two people to apply.
"It's a series of decals that fit together like puzzles. . . . You lay it down, spray it, peel it off and then seal it with glue (and) paint in the filler parts," Miller said. "It's apparently the most complicated imitation tattoo ever created, done by the art house that did all the special effects for 'The Passion of the Christ.' "
And it's not like it comes off when he showers.
"The tattoo will stay on for two to three weeks, if you don't scrub it off with some solvents," Miller said.