FOX's 'Terminator' Goes on a Rampage

"I'll be back."

The Terminator wasn't kidding. Then in the form of California governor-to-be Arnold Schwarzenegger, the futuristic cyborg -- sent back in time to prevent the birth of the eventual leader of a revolt against society-ruling machines -- would return in two movie sequels.

Now, the battle continues in a television series, as FOX debuts "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" Sunday, Jan. 13. Another episode follows the next night in what will be the show's usual Monday slot.

The mother of the feared revolutionary, Sarah (Lena Headey, "300") gives voiceover perspective on events that keep her and teenage son John (Thomas Dekker) on the run from their seemingly indestructible enemy (Owain Yeoman, "The Nine"). They get unexpected help from Cameron (Summer Glau, "Firefly"), a young woman who turns out to be much more than she first seems.

Tracking their moves is an FBI man (Richard T. Jones, "Judging Amy") who scoffs, but not for long, at the idea of unstoppable robots taking over the world.

"Our characters fight a battle every episode, based on faith that they can prevent Judgment Day," says Consulting Producer James Middleton, who played a key role in developing the franchise's last movie ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," also Schwarzenegger's last starring movie before entering politics full-time). "They're going to do everything they can, but the odds against them are formidable. How they operate every day is to fight the fight the best they can."

And they sure take their lumps doing that, with title star Headey getting thrown around a lot in the course of the pilot episode. While predecessor Linda Hamilton was known for working out to play Sarah, the current actress is taking a different approach. "This series is going to develop and, along with that, so will her physicality," Headey explains. "We find [her] at a different point. I've done nothing."

Not so for Glau, who gets very active very quickly in the show. "I was just so excited to play this kind of character," she says. "She's isolated, and she's different from the other characters in how she relates and how she communicates. She's very strong and she can't genuinely feel emotion. The most challenging part, I think, is that I want people to be able to relate to her and see themselves in her in some way."

Perhaps the most relatable character in the series is young John Connor, who finds himself at the mercy of forces he doesn't understand -- sometimes including his own mother. Previously seen as Zach on NBC's "Heroes," Dekker claims he was "really, really hooked" on the "Terminator" movies.

"They were my favorite films when I was younger," he says, "so it's very ironic that I'm getting to do this. I know that for myself, John was as important as Sarah. His life in the series has evolved a lot from where it was in the films; he's having to wake up to the fact that this won't go away, and he has to really step up to the plate."

Bullets keep flying throughout the opening hour of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," and one hopes companies that supplied furniture to the production didn't expect it back intact. In a sequence likely to disturb some viewers in light of certain news stories, the Terminator impersonates a teacher at John's new school and literally guns his way through a classroom.

Executive Producer Josh Friedman ("War of the Worlds") wrote the scene. "I'm actually from Colorado, and I grew up not far from Columbine," he says. "I certainly didn't write it for some sort of shock effect or anything like that. It was written because I think that was the most important way to tell that part of the story.

"I was kind of thinking about John and Sarah and that relationship; a lot of the show is this woman who's very much a control freak letting this child go off into the world. For all of us as parents, I think it's a very scary world, and for her particularly."

Also involved in the project as both an executive producer and a director is David Nutter, who built his reputation for realistic fantasy through such series as "The X-Files" and "Roswell." He explains, "I was raised by a single mother, and I understood the Sarah Connor sensibility. How is John going to grow up? How is Sarah going to take care of him? I look inside myself to try to find what moves me, then I try to portray that. It's important to make it honest and not to manufacture anything, not to manipulate things."

"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" automatically benefits not only from an established recognition factor but, because of the writers strike, from being one of the few new scripted series being offered by network television. As much as its makers would love to exploit the Schwarzenegger connection by having him make a guest appearance, don't expect it.

"The reality is that, as governor, he's incredibly busy," Middleton says. And, Friedman adds, "he's incredibly expensive."

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