The breakouts

A YOUNG woman of questionable morals gets hit by a car, knocked into a coma and awakens with amnesia. You've got to be kidding, right? Even the show's co-creator, Donald Todd, was skeptical at first. Hearing the pitch from co-creator Cecilia Ahern, "I kind of stopped listening halfway through," he recalls. "Then when I heard that the character was good and found out she was bad in the past, I got interested, because that showed me possibilities." Star Christina Applegate had the same reaction. "I thought, 'Oh, ridiculous,' " she says, "and then I read the first page, and there was something so wrong about the mother taping her for 'Extreme Makeover' while she was in a coma that I thought, 'This is up my alley.' "

Applegate, as the title character in "Samantha Who?" wrestles with friends, family and her evildoing past in the ABC comedy that holds out the fantasy of being able to start life over with a clean slate. "Every week it's a redemption story," Todd points out. "People are really excited about the idea of somebody trying to be better than themselves."

And amnesia is just a jumping off point. "Every show has to have a concept, you start somewhere," Applegate says. "Then you build off of that, knowing that it's there within the story line but it's not the focal point."

In the coming season, Todd says, "we shift farther away from amnesia and into a show about a woman who is aggressively trying to live a brand-new life."

But Applegate will not be giving up the flashbacks to her character's sordid past, she insists. "I love playing bad Sam."

-- L.R.

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