If there were any relation between ratings and quality, American Dreams would be the No. 1 show on TV. But hey, we're not complaining; at least NBC has renewed the soul-stirring '60s-set dramedy for a second season. "We're the little engine that could," executive producer Jonathan Prince tells TV Guide Online. "It's hard to call yourself a hit on the network that gives us Friends and ER ... but I feel really good about what we've done, especially up against The Simpsons and such tough competition."

Prince's boss, NBC prez Jeff Zucker, seconds that emotion. "He said, 'I'm going to make Sundays work,'" reveals Prince. Heaven knows he and his Dreams team are trying. For this week's season finale (airing at 8 pm/ET), they've recruited Destiny's Child vocalist Kelly Rowand to perform "Nowhere to Run" as Martha Reeves and teen queen Stacie Orrico to do the Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back." (Series regulars Brittany Snow and Vanessa Lengies sing backup on the cut from the just-released soundtrack, though for obvious story reasons their characters, American Bandstand dancers Meg and Roxanne, won't be seen doing so.)

Dreams's freshman-year sendoff also features another landmark moment in history which has a profound impact on the future of the series' wide-eyed heroine: Meg gets caught up in the Philadelphia race riots. Afterward, her relationships with both African-American school chum Sam and boyfriend Luke are forever altered. "For a while, Luke felt like he was too sophisticated for Meg, then she caught up," Prince notes. "For next year, we keep thinking, 'Boy, having gone through what she's gone through, where would that put Meg?' She'd probably want to be around older people. Maybe through [big brother J.J.'s honey] Beth, she starts hanging out with college kids."

So where does that leave Sam? As much as we love Luke, it's obvious that Meg has a soft spot for her pal. "Clearly, Sam is a big part of Meg's life," Prince acknowledges. "But it's 1964, so there's no way that we can pretend that these two people could be together [romantically]. A, they're teenagers, and B, he's black. Yet at the same time, it feels like we'd be lying if we didn't see that these two people are attracted to each other and want to be around each other.

"But," he adds, "I don't think that even they could imagine that they should be together. It couldn't occur to them. So [their plot progression will be] about them trying to stay friends in an environment in which nobody wants them to. I want to play that like the ongoing desire to be together." Whatever he comes up with, we'll be watching. For 60 glorious minutes every seven days, he never fails to make our hearts skip to the beat of a bygone era.