Must-Believe TV

Religion and faith are the bywords for The CW's new fall line-up, which includes two new shows hip to the idea of 'belief.'

Have you got your TiVo or DVR machine prepped for the fall TV season? Among the plethora of new dramas (and a few sitcoms) making their way to the small screen, the fledgling CW network's new comedic line-up is featuring two shows with faith and religion as the common themes.

"Aliens in America" and "Reaper" are creating big buzz in the media's fall television preview coverage. The hour-long series "Reaper" (premiering Sept. 25) is about slacker Sam Oliver ("The Loop's" Bret Harrison), who upon turning 21, learns his parents have sold his soul to Satan ("Twin Peaks'" Ray Wise)--and now he must become "the devil's bounty hunter."

Then there's the sitcom "Aliens in America" (premiering Oct. 1), where a Midwest Christian family gets a culture shock when the Anglo-European exchange student they were expecting (to befriend their outsider son and help him become popular) turns out a be a devout 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim: Raja Musharaff (Adhir Kalyan of the Irish TV series "Fair City").

These fresh shows are a contrast to The CW's line-up last season, which mostly featured returning series from its two predecessor networks, The WB and UPN. (The CW was launched Sept. 20, 2006, as a joint venture from Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp., which owned the WB and UPN, respectively.)

Now, The CW is focused on making new hits with its 18- to 34-year-old target market, president of entertainment Dawn Ostroff said at the network's recent Television Critics Association presentation in Los Angeles. She added that the toddler network is the only one focusing on that market, being a decade younger than closest competitor FOX.

Ostroff later said in an e-mail interview that The CW researches all aspects of the demographic without releasing any specific information: "We explore everything in their lives in our research, including religion," she said. "We will continue to voraciously analyze our demo in order to grow our network."

The CW ended up picking "Aliens," "Reaper," and its other new shows because it is believed they will strike a chord with this elusive (and often fickle) young audience.

"We consider many, many factors when developing and programming new shows at the network, including the values our characters possess," Ostroff said. "But ultimately, it's all about entertaining the audience."

"Reaper" and "Aliens" are comical offerings with an edge, given the situations characters such as Sam, Satan, and Raja are placed in.

"Aliens" uses 9/11 as a backdrop and pokes fun of Midwesterners and their interactions with the "other," including Raja and his host family's teenage son Justin ("The Hills Have Eyes'" Dan Byrd). Justin may share the same ethnic-religious background as the majority in this Midwestern fictional society, but he can't seem to fit in. And this is despite his and mother Franny's (Amy Pietz from "Caroline in the City") humorous attempts to make him one of the crowd.

Case in point: Thinking they can get an instant friend by hosting an exchange student (who they expect to be a cool Caucasian boy).

Noteworthy scenes include Franny's fear when she catches Justin praying with Raja and Raja's introduction to his high school class by a teacher, which includes asking the students how many are mad at him because he is a Muslim from Pakistan. Priceless stuff.

For executive producer David Guarascio, who worked with fellow producer Moses Port on "Mad About You" and "Just Shoot Me," pushing the limits is key. "We're excited to push the envelope a little bit... the best way to be funny is to not be afraid to be too edgy and take chances, and not be afraid to miss," Guarascio said.
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Sara Shereen Bakhshian
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