When Alias kicks off its fourth season in January, fans are going to spy some big-time changes. Coming off a subpar season, which saw viewership decline 9 percent, series creator J.J. Abrams will once again embrace the show's original conceit. Namely, Sydney will go back to juggling her dual roles as an international spy and normal twentysomething.

"We got so deep in the Rimbaldi and Covenant [mysteries] that we lost sight of some of the stuff we fell in love with [in the beginning]," ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson tells TV Guide Online. "J.J. is talking about getting back to some of the joy that she used to have in her personal life early on... while still living in this crazy world."

Abrams says he had an epiphany about Alias' disappointing third season while he was working on the pilot for his upcoming ABC thriller, Lost. "Going away to do Lost allowed me to look at Alias in a way that I could not have done otherwise — from the outside," he explains. "And it was like an incredibly enlightening thing. I suddenly knew in my heart what I wanted and what I didn't want — and I saw what was happening. Not that I wasn't proud of what was there, but I saw some mistakes that I made and I thought, 'Oh my God.'

"It was like going home and watching the game on TV — it gives you that perspective that you don't have when you're playing it," he adds. "I have a knowledge of the show I never had before."

Meanwhile, Abrams, unlike fans, is not peeved at ABC for delaying the show's return until January. "I was begging them to do it," he admits, noting that the midseason launch will allow his baby to unspool its 20 episodes uninterrupted by reruns. "Every time we would return after three or four weeks of repeats, our ratings would dip. Every time."

The move, therefore, should not be interpreted as ABC not believing in the show, he says. "I guess you could argue that shuffling it to the back makes it look less important to them, but I think it's actually the opposite. If they didn't believe in the show they wouldn't have A) picked it up, B) ordered 20 [episodes] and C) strategized how to maximize its [potential]."

"I couldn't believe more in the show," McPherson attests. "We're going to be launching a lot of new dramas in the fall and we wouldn't have been able to put any money [into promoting Alias]. So we felt the best thing to do was bring it on in January when we've got all [20 episodes] and a huge promotion platform with the Academy Awards."

And if that strategy doesn't entangle more viewers in the spy yarn, Jennifer Garner can kiss her extensive wig collection good-bye, right? Wrong. McPherson insists there's "not a chance" Season 4 could be Alias' last. "It will be an asset for years." How many, exactly? Cracks Abrams: "Exactly 100." Nobody likes a smart-ass. Well, except us.