Castle, Glee

Comic-Con has become the ultimate experience for TV fans. And more than 125,000 of them will descend upon the San Diego Convention Center from this Thursday through Sunday for screenings, star panels, autograph opportunities and specially designed collectibles. In the last few years, though, the featured TV shows have fallen into three distinct categories: the obvious "genre" programming like Fringe, Caprica, Supernatural, Futurama and The Vampire Diaries; the shows with tangential relationships to genre entertainment (see ABC's Castle panel, with former Firefly star Nathan Fillion, for instance); and finally, entries, like Glee, that make some hard-core fans think, "Why exactly is that show here?"

Joining that elite first group is AMC's The Walking Dead, a zombie drama based on the Image Comics title by Robert Kirkman, a veteran of the San Diego experience. "It seems like every time I go to Comic-Con, I discover a new VIP area," he says. "Like, 'Wait a minute, just behind this wall they're giving back rubs and everyone gets pink lemonade?'"

Of course, more recognizable VIPs, like Lucy Lawless, who'll be on hand for Starz's Spartacus presentation, had to be creative if they wanted to venture out onto the main floor in years past. "I did put on a silly Zorro mask [once] because I couldn't walk 20 feet out the door without [being recognized]," Lawless says of her visits during her Xena days, "and sort of wandered the halls and looked at the comics and stuff." Friday's Spartacus should be poignant since it will be star Andy Whitfield's first major appearance since he began treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "I know he's gonna love every moment of it," Lawless says, "because when you've been faced with something like that you're grateful for every beautiful day that follows."

This year's "tangential" category includes Castle and CBS' Hawaii Five-0 remake, whose exec producers include Star Trek scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. "I think the thing that makes it Comic-Con-relevant," says Kurtzman, "is that it literally is created by an amazing melting pool of geeks — between us and Peter Lenkov, who wrote R.I.P.D. [comics], Len Wiseman, who directed and produced the Underworld movies, [stars] Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim, whose credits speak for themselves." (That's Battlestar Galactica and Lost, respectively.) And, of course, there's also Alex O'Loughlin, whose legions of Moonlight fans are sure to fill the room for Friday morning's Five-0 sneak peak.

As for Castle's panel on Sunday — moderated by TV Guide Magazine's William Keck — Fillion says, "I feel like I have a safety net being in three different Joss Whedon shows, different sci-fi bits, all sorts of genre-esque [projects]." The actor even makes a case for the last category of shows — Glee, Dexter, Burn Notice, Sons of Anarchy, etc. — that don't seem to quite fit in with the event's original premise. "I think that Comic-Con has really transcended all," he says. "At the beginning, it was just comics, and now it's anything that a group of people can rally behind, that they can be fanatical about."

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