Touted by its executives as "the first new broadcast network of the 21st century," The CW unveils its first -- indeed its only -- new drama of the fall season with the premiere of "Runaway" on Monday, Sept. 25.
A hybrid of the now-defunct UPN and The WB Network, The CW actually had its official launch last week with the Sept. 20 season premiere of "America's Next Top Model." Its lineup consists mainly of a blend of WB staples such as "Gilmore Girls" and "7th Heaven" with such UPN critics' favorites as "Veronica Mars" and "Everybody Hates Chris."
"We're now the only network targeting 18- to 34-year-olds, with the youngest median age of any network," says Dawn Ostroff, The CW's president of entertainment. "To make an impact on this young adult audience, we must be different in everything we do: our programming, our marketing and how we engage our audience."
Network executives are hoping "Runaway" will prove a suitable time slot neighbor for its long-running lead-in, "7th Heaven." That's something of a gamble, because while both shows deal with tightly knit, two-parent families, "Runaway" is substantially darker and more suspenseful than "Heaven."
The new series stars former teen idol Donnie Wahlberg as attorney Paul Rader, who is forced to flee with wife Lily (Leslie Hope, "24") and their three kids after Paul is unjustly framed and convicted of a hideous murder. They are pursued by both the FBI and the real killer, who threatens to kill Paul's family if he ever resurfaces.
Assuming new identities, the Raders move to small-town Iowa, where teenage daughter Hannah (Sarah Ramos), a former wallflower, hopes to reinvent herself. Her older brother, Henry (Dustin Milligan), however, is furious with Paul for forcing him to leave his girlfriend, while little 8-year-old Tommy (Nathan Gamble) can't really comprehend what is going on, which threatens to expose the family's situation.
"[Tommy] just thinks this is a fun game, especially in the first few episodes," explains series creator and co-executive producer Chad Hodge, "and you see in the pilot that he forgets his ['new'] name in his first day at class. ... It becomes about how do you teach your child that lying is bad when you're teaching him to lie for survival?"
Wahlberg brings a convincing weariness and vulnerability to Paul, and he says the role wasn't quite as big a stretch as it may appear.
"While I may look young and dashing and handsome, I do feel very world-weary," the 37-year-old actor says. "I have lived probably more lifetimes than I could ever have dreamed of so far. But I think what really I'm able to bring to the character is I'm a parent. I have two children of my own, a wife at home.
"Growing up sort of in the street, around dangerous circumstances, it's not that hard for me to imagine what it would be like to live this way."
Clues to the murder mystery that is the backdrop of the drama will be revealed gradually as the series unfolds, but Hodge says new viewers don't need to fear they've missed the boat.
"I keep saying this is a family thriller, which I don't know if it's ever been done before," Hodge says. "But the family stories ... are close-ended. You can follow a family story each week, but if you are tuning in for the thriller, you get a new piece of the mystery each week."
The CW Hopes for 'Runaway' Success
Donnie Wahlberg on 'Runaway'
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