Jennifer Garner, Alias
Shortly before Thanksgiving, ABC executives called Alias creator J.J. Abrams in China — where he was directing Mission: Impossible 3 — to break the news that his four-year-old spy drama would complete its final mission in May. A sober Abrams then placed calls to each of the drama's original cast members, beginning with star Jennifer Garner. While the cancellation news wasn't shocking, "it's sad nonetheless," says executive producer Jeff Pinkner. "When we met Sydney Bristow, she didn't know who she was. Now, at the end of this season, she may have a family. It's time for her to move on to the next phase. That's what life is about."

Viewership has suffered in the show's recent Thursdays-at-8 time slot, declining 31 percent from last season. And even back in August, Abrams hinted that this could be the show's swan song, telling TV Guide that "it certainly feels that way, like certain things do, that it's the end of a chapter."

But not, perhaps, the closing of the book. Producers are mulling ways to continue the franchise. "I would say we haven't seen the end of all things Alias," Pinkner teases. "There are versions of this show which could exist after this season. There are plenty of stories we'd love to tell."

Among the formats Pinkner and Abrams have discussed is a spin-off series revolving around villains Sark (David Anders), Peyton (Amy Acker) and Sloane (Ron Rifkin). "It's the triumvirate of evil!" Pinkner says. (No official discussions with ABC have taken place yet.) Producers have also toyed with the idea of a big-screen adaptation starring Garner.

Regardless, expect an explosive countdown to the series finale. The Dec. 14 episode — a special Wednesday airing and the last installment before the show's hiatus to accommodate Garner's maternity leave — featured the return of Sydney's true love, Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan), who was apparently killed in the season premiere. The reunion, not a dream sequence per se, left open the possibility that Syd and Vaughn could still ride off into the sunset together come May.

When the series returns this spring, expect to see familiar faces. Greg Grunberg has already filmed an episode as Eric Weiss, and producers have worked up a wish list that includes Syd's buddy Will (Bradley Cooper of the just-axed Kitchen Confidential), perhaps more appearances by spy mommy Irina (Lena Olin, who put in a "surprise" cameo in the Dec. 14 outing), and the evil Francinator (Merrin Dungey), who, as Pinkner points out, "cannot die."

Other long-running characters, though, may not be so lucky. "The good thing about getting the news now," Pinkner says, "is that we have 10 episodes left to really wrap things up. We can kill characters and not worry about what to do without them next year. We can tell the epic story that this deserves to be."