Anthony Michael Hall, <EM>The Dead Zone</EM> Anthony Michael Hall, The Dead Zone

Armageddon is so last week. USA Network’s The Dead Zone (Sundays at 10 pm/ET) ended its first season in 2002 with a hook as fresh as it was horrifying: Psychic Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall) had a vision of Washington, D.C., in nuclear ruin. The man responsible? Ambitious politico Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flanery).

Five years later that plot’s still playing out, but now many shows spin on the fear of an apocalypse (Heroes, Sleeper Cell) or have nukes that actually do detonate (Jericho, 24). What was once unfathomable is now almost ho-hum. So how will The Dead Zone — back for its sixth season — keep us hooked on its doomsday scenario? By twisting it, turning it and sending it into outer space.

“We’ve skipped ahead six months to find Stillson is vice president — just a heartbeat from the White House,” says executive producer Shawn Piller. There’s also been a shocking shift in the conspiratorial cabal that controls Stillson: The group’s leader, Malcolm Janus (Martin Donovan), was killed in the June 17 season-opener. On July 1 it’s revealed that Stillson has a covert interest in privatized space missions. Johnny will “see” a space shuttle in trouble that’s loaded with plutonium, suggesting this may be the way Stillson triggers the end of days.

But it won’t be all Armageddon all the time. Dead Zone has always been big with female viewers, due in large part to Johnny’s unrequited love for former fiancée Sarah (Nicole deBoer), with whom he shares a son. That, too, got a shake-up when Sarah’s husband, Walt (Chris Bruno), died alongside Janus.

“We’re returning to the romantic mythology of our first season,” Hall says. “Sarah will move into Johnny’s house.” But don’t expect domestic bliss: A combative new sheriff, Anna Turner (The SopranosCara Buono), just arrived as another love interest for Johnny. “Anna is a skeptic when it comes to psychic stuff,” Buono says. “She’s not buying what Johnny is selling.”

And Sarah may be tempted by Stillson when the bed-hopper tries to whitewash his rep by landing her. “The only way for him to be president is to have a wife,” notes Piller, who hopes all these twists will “buy us three more seasons.”

That’s fine by Hall, a former ‘80s Brat Packer who was in his own dead zone when the series came along. The actor has a juicy role in the next Batman flick, The Dark Knight, and recently played himself on Entourage. “I owe everything to The Dead Zone,” he says. “This show gave me my career back.”

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