Ashley Scott and Skeet Ulrich, <EM>Jericho</EM> Ashley Scott and Skeet Ulrich, Jericho

You know the story. Last year, CBS said, "You're canceled!" Jericho "Rangers," taking a cue from the show's hero, Jake Green (played by Skeet Ulrich) and also Anthony C. McAuliffe, a U.S. General during World War II, responded firmly with, "Nuts!" Now Jericho is back for a seven-episode run starting tonight at 10 pm/ET on CBS.

"There's been a little angel on Jericho's shoulder," Carol Barbee, executive producer, tells TVGuide.com. "We didn't think the seven episodes CBS gave us were very much, but if we'd been given eight, we'd have a finale sitting in pieces unedited [because of the strike]. Instead, we have seven shows ready to go."

The series concluded Season 1 with the title town and neighboring community, New Bern, ready to go to war. The action doesn't slow down in tonight's episode, appropriately titled "Reconstruction." "Season 1 was about survival and getting resources," says Dan Shotz, co-executive producer. "We wanted to make the second season broader — it's about how [people] face a [new] government."

"Season 2 is about saving the country and a system of government," adds Barbee. "The story starts in the first episode, so you can jump right in."

New characters this season include Esai Morales (NYPD Blue) and George Newbern (Providence) as, respectively, Major Beck and President Tomarchio of the Allied States of America. "We knew when we lost the character of Johnston Green [Gerald McRaney] that there was a loss of 'awesomeness' on the landscape," says Barbee about casting Morales. "We were looking for someone to fill that."

Newbern worked with Barbee when she was a writer/producer on Providence. "We had other types in mind, but we ultimately said, 'What about a guy who looks like John Edwards?'"

Producers entertained getting McRaney back for a guest gig (perhaps as a spirit), but the actor was busy trying to keep wife Delta Burke from buying more junk doing the off-Broadway show Dividing the Estate. "He would have had to have flown out and back on the same day," says Barbee.

Pamela Reed, who starred in Season 1 as Jake's mom, Gail, will be back, but on a limited basis. The actress reportedly addressed her not being given a contract during a panel on ageism at the Los Angeles Femme Film Festival. "Losing Pamela broke everyone's heart," says Jon Turteltaub, executive producer. "We were asked to cut our cast and put more action into the show. Your mom is not going to be a focus of the action."

True, but didn't Reed swing a mean baseball bat to villainous Carroll Baker's midsection in Kindergarten Cop? "Yes, she did," chuckles Turteltaub, adding, "Hopefully, we'll come back [for another season] and be able to expand our cast."

Producers want viewers to know that the cult favorite by no means excludes new viewers. "The last thing we want to do is tell people that there's a super-secret Jericho club," says Turteltaub. "We're trying to give our most loyal fans a reward, but we also have to make a show that will invite the rest of America to watch, too."

How would he sell the series to a Jericho newcomer? "It's about a town rebuilding," he says. "It's a microcosm to what all of America would face if we were hit with a huge catastrophe. You see how people react differently."

Jericho's storytellers have two conclusions in mind for the seven-episode arc. "We leave with a cliff-hanger that will hopefully take us into a Season 3," says Shotz.

"The alternate ending that CBS asked for doesn't end the show," clarifies Barbee. "Our ending that we love shows the next mission that has to be accomplished. The other ending lets you know that the guys you love are OK."

One point that may be resolved is the Heather (Sprague Grayden)/Jake/Emily (Ashley Scott) triangle. An online poll had more than 60,000 replies favoring one love interest, but that doesn't mean that the other won't emerge the winner. "The characters have a certain trajectory that they have to continue in so that the integrity of the story can be kept," says Barbee, adding, "But I love the fact that we've created characters that viewers fight about."

Check out Jericho clips in our Online Video Guide.

Find out everything you need to know about Jericho with our Strike Survival Guide and Photo Gallery.

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