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Shiri Appleby and Jason Behr in "Roswell"

Viewer alienation not a problem for teen drama 'Roswell'

From Laurin Sydney
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent

NEW YORK (CNN) -- High-school years are often filled with feelings of alienation, of not belonging, of almost like being from another planet. That's exactly what the creators of "Roswell" are banking on.

On the new WB drama, aliens walk the halls of a Roswell, New Mexico, high school. They carry backpacks and gossip. In fact, these aliens look better and talk smarter than any high-school students from any known galaxy.

It was some 30 or 40 miles northwest of Roswell that conspiracy buffs say an alien spacecraft crashed in July 1947.

Tales of coverups by the United States military have since proved as hardy as cacti in the desert terrain. Among the most persistent allegations is that the remains of downed aliens were taken to a facility called Hangar 18 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (then known as Wright Field) near Dayton, Ohio.

Originally, Army Air Corps personnel from the 509th Bomb Group are said to have referred to a crashed "flying disk." The term used shortly thereafter by the military was "weather balloon."

Washington for more than 50 years has been dogged by questions about the "Roswell incident." And the southwestern town today has a tourist industry thriving on the subject and centered around such installations as the International UFO Museum & Research Center.

The producers of the WB's new show -- David Nutter of "The X-Files" and Jason Katims of "My So-Called Life" -- have layered onto the basic idea a new concept: The alien ship delivered an incubator containing three alien teens.

It's those three kids who, in the pilot aired on October 6, found their cover blown when one of them revealed his identity to a friend, along with a power to adjust molecular structure and heal humans.

Says Jason Behr, who plays that alien teen, Max, says the show is "about a bunch of high-school students and their friends and how they relate to each other and how they deal with the whole dynamic of that relationship when it's taken an unexpected turn."

A Romeo-and-Juliet tale

That unexpected turn comes when one of Max's fellow students, Liz Parker (Shiri Appleby) is shot while working at her father's diner, the Crashdown Cafe. Max heals her mortal wound with a touch of his hand, leaving behind a telltale silver handprint. Then he asks her not to reveal his secret.

A relationship blooms between the guy from outer space and the girl whom Appleby describes as "very smart, into science, biology -- and she somewhat has a crush on this guy."

All this, in spite of the strong disapproval of Max's two fellow stranded aliens, Isabel Evans (Katherine Heigl) and Michael Guerin (Brendan Fehr). They fear Max is putting them at risk by opening up to an Earthling girl.

"I saw me as he saw me," Appleby's character says in the show, describing the brief interaction. "And the amazing thing was, in his eyes, I was beautiful."

"It's kind of like a love story, it really is," says Behr. "But it's about two different people that shouldn't be together but want to."

In one of the pilot's most pointed scenes, a Roswell festival, crawling with people costumed as "aliens," sends a mock spaceship on a wire to crash and burn on the ground. The three alien teens look on, made outsiders in the crowd by the fact that they're seeing a tawdry replay of their violent arrival on Earth.

Sky-high ratings, for WB

"Roswell's" premiere posted the WB's second-highest debut ever, indicating that these two previously unknown actors, Behr and Appleby, may soon be household names.

The sudden success feels alien to Behr, he says: "It's a weird feeling. I feel like I woke up in somebody else's bed."

Appleby actually did wake up in somebody else's bed. Although anxious to know whether "Roswell" would be picked up and what time it would air, she was crashing at a friend's house so she wouldn't feel like she was waiting for the phone to ring.

"So I woke up at 11:30," she says. "I'm like, 'I'm just going to check the machine; I know I don't have any messages, but I'm just going to check.' Checked, had three messages. They're like 'We've been picked up. Call for details.'"

She'd later find out that the WB had ordered 22 episodes of the show, not just 13, and that it had landed in the coveted Wednesday night slot (9 p.m. Eastern) following "Dawson's Creek."

"I didn't even know what to do," Appleby says. "It was unbelievable. It was like a dream come true."

WB angling for adults with 'Jack & Jill'
October 11, 1999
Wednesday night's primetime lineup: Something for everyone
September 2, 1999
Looking for the next 'Dawson's Creek'
August 5, 1999
Alien believers flock to Roswell for 'crash' anniversary
July 2, 1997

The WB
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