In case you haven't noticed, you're driving the networks nuts.
Putting aside CBS, which generally has a solid bead on what works for its audience, they don't know what you want. And they seldom know what they want, so they can't fall back on that as a guide. All they know is that their former hits are plummeting (again, less so at CBS), and they haven't come up with the kind of big hits they need to replace them.
So they're flailing around, trying to find something that will strike you as "different," without worrying much over whether it actually is. Fox has imported cable-levels of shock and violence (if not dramatic intensity) for The Following. NBC has tried - and failed - with a political spoof (1600 Penn), a mystery soap (Deception) and a med show/horror show hybrid (Do No Harm, which will at least be remembered for failing on a historic scale).
And now ABC books passage on the network crazy train with Zero Hour, an incredibly complicated, studiously silly puzzle inspired by Da Vinci Code (or, seeing as ABC is a Disney company, National Treasure), combining Nazi genetic experiments, a mysterious sect of Catholic clockmakers, a treasure map hidden in a diamond and a secret that, if discovered, could mean "the end of mankind as we know it."
Throw in ER's Anthony Edwards as your average-guy Hitchcock-hero swept into the hunt against his will and you have ... well, actually, it's not clear what you have, other than a grand swing of the bat that will be seen as clever if it connects and insane if it whiffs.
Produced by Zack Estrin - last represented on TV by two failed ABC experiments, The River and No Ordinary Family - Zero casts Edwards as Hank, editor of the myth-debunking magazine Modern Skeptic.
At a flea market, he and his wife (Jacinda Barrett) discover an odd, old clock, a discovery that quickly gets her kidnapped and draws him into a search for a potentially earth-destroying secret that has been guarded by the Rosicrucians for generations. (Why do people in these stories always guard these dangerous secrets rather than just destroying them? If they're waiting for us to be mature enough to use them properly, that's clearly never going to happen.)
Luckily, Hank has that ancient map laden with clues in, naturally, a lost language. And he doesn't have to follow them alone: At his side he has two magazine staffers (Addison Timlin and Scott Michael Foster, providing the show's only comic relief) and a beautiful FBI agent (Carmen Ejogo).
If you're of a certain mind or in a certain mood, that may sound like fun, and it well might be. It may not be clear where the story's going, but it does have momentum - and, ABC promises, it will only extend for a 13-episode run, when answers will be supplied and the plot will conclude. Should Zero return for another season, Hank will have a new conspiracy to crack.
And there's the rub: Hank. For these stories to work, we have to invest in the everyman hero caught in the center, and while Edwards may be convincing as the "everyman" part of the equation, the "hero" eludes him.
Part of it is the writing; too many of the breakthroughs tonight are made by other people, with Hank just following along. But part of the blame goes to Edwards, who sometimes seems oddly unenergized for someone who suddenly finds himself battling homicidal, Nazi-loving, clock-stealing conspirators to rescue his wife and save the world.
Sure, it sounds nuts. But if that can't wake a man up, what can?