Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker in The Sarah Connor Chronicles by Joe Viles/Fox
With the Fox network, it's often all about the mid-season, the time when shows like American Idol and 24 come along to rescue the network from its fall doldrums. Not that it's impossible for any of Fox's September newcomers to catch on. The Kelsey Grammer/Patricia Heaton sitcom Back to You looks very commercial. The situation is admittedly tougher for the downbeat New Orleans crime drama K-Ville or the murky supernatural crime drama New Amsterdam (about an immortal detective) to buck the odds and be a factor come January. While it's possible one or both may hit its mark, you can't help but feel that they might as well be titled "Placeholder 1" and "Placeholder 2" (shades of last fall's Vanished, Justice and Standoff).

Once again, Fox is holding back one of its biggest guns (literally) for January. Easily the most anticipated show on the network's lineup is The Sarah Connor Chronicles (look for the word Terminator to be added to the title before it premieres): a high-octane, big-budget, special-effects-laden action thriller picking up roughly two years after Terminator 2 left off. It's a fugitive chase thriller pitting Sarah Connor ( 300's Lena Headey) and her adolescent son and future freedom fighter John ( Heroes' Thomas Dekker) against those seemingly unstoppable Terminator robots from the future. (Possible spoiler alert: Helping them in their battle is an advanced-model female Terminator, played by Firefly's Summer Glau, who describes her character Cameron as "the most human Terminator so far.")

At a TCA session Monday morning, the audience was peppered with the usual sci-fi obsessives (how can I refrain from calling them geeks?), who tried desperately to figure out the show's new timeline. "As far as I'm concerned, this is T3," says executive producer/writer Josh Friedman (cowriter of the recent War of the Worlds movie). "This is the continuation of what I call, 'the Sarah Connor trilogy.' Anything that happens after T2 is fair game for us." Consulting producer James Middleton, who helped develop the T3: Rise of the Machine movie, adds: "We're taking a phrase that's very important in T2: 'No fate but what we make.' This is a new fate for Sarah Connor, so we are creating an entirely new timeline."

OK, moving on.... What really matters here is that this series is going to be catnip for genre fans. Not only are stars from 300, Firefly, Heroes in the cast, but the behind-the-scenes crew also includes executive producer/director David Nutter ( The X-Files), co-executive producer Toni Graphia ( Battlestar Galactica), and BSG composer Bear McCreary doing the score. I'm sure there are more connections to be made, so have at it, Terminator fans.

Nutter took great pains to promise skeptics in the audience that the action and special-effects components, so prominent in the explosive pilot episode, will continue through the series. At the same time, the show is going to have to be sensitive to the concerns of critics (including government watchdogs, no doubt) and studio/network execs over the show's relentlessly violent intensity. Already, a scene in the pilot involving a Terminator's attack on John Connor at his high school is being modified, in light of the Virginia Tech horrors.

Friedman says he wrote that scene not so much for shock value but to underscore the series' themes "about this woman who is very much a control freak letting this child go out into the world. For all of us as parents, it's a very scary world.... [And school] is one of the last places you would like to feel is safe." Still, the scene's being changed, though no one would elaborate just how.

Nutter adds, "The most important part of this was really to add a sense of an action element to the show, that Terminator fans are expecting and want from the series, and to let the audience know that this Terminator is not going to be, in a sense, a 'TV version.'" In other words, if there's no bang for the buck, why even do it?

Addressing the violence issue, Friedman says, "Because of the context of what the show is about, the apocalypse and the scary robots coming to try to end mankind, this gives us a great opportunity to explore human value and humankind. I think a lot of the show is about how you [wage] a war against a force that doesn't value you or value themselves at all. How do you do that and still maintain your own humanity?.... I take it very seriously, because that's thematically what it's about. How does Sarah raise a son to be the leader of the free world? You can't do it by just teaching him to shoot guns. You have to teach him how to be a man from a moral place."

Which is all fine and dandy, but you also have to teach him how to shoot, how to fight, how to run, how to survive. Because without that, where's the show?

At the moment, Fox still lists The Sarah Connor Chronicles as airing Sundays at 9 pm/ET (the old X-Files time period) on an undetermined mid-season date. As usual, though, let's see how the fall shakes out before we start worrying where the show will air and what it will displace. Suffice it to say that Fox will put all of its promotional and scheduling muscle behind this one.