The end is near.
No, not the end of the world, the end of the TV series "Millennium."
Fox hasn't announced the show's cancellation yet, but given its low ratings I have to think it won't live to see the millennium. Then again, I didn't expect it to get renewed this year, so what do I know?
Well, I know "Millennium" creator Chris Carter ("The X-Files") is readying a new series for Fox, "Harsh Realm," that will likely take "Millennium's" spot on the network's prime-time schedule.
"Millennium" executive producer Chip Johannessen and co-executive producer Ken Horton are confident a seven-episode arc beginning at 9 tonight could help the series survive to see a fourth season.
In a phone interview from their offices on the Fox lot in Hollywood, the TV scribes said they don't know where their renewal chances stand because there have only been six new episodes of "Millennium" since Christmas.
"We were deader than this last year," Horton said. "It's hard to say right at this moment. January we had good ratings, February we had bad ones. If we do January numbers, we'll be back. But if this seven-episode arc does not work, if the audience doesn't respond to it, we won't be back."
"Millennium" has never caught a break since its well-reviewed, highly rated pilot episode aired in 1996. At the time, the show was about a former FBI profiler, Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), his wife (Megan Gallagher) and their daughter, Jordan (Brittany Tiplady).
The series quickly devolved into a violent "serial killer of the week" show and viewers bolted. Last season new producers tried to reinvent "Millennium" by forsaking the serial killers for the mythology of the shadowy Millennium Group, whose purposes remain elusive.
At the end of last year the writers painted themselves into a corner, scripting the end of the world and killing off Frank's wife. This season Frank has tried to carry on, moving to Washington, D.C., rejoining the FBI and gaining a new crime-solving partner, Emma Hollis (Klea Scott).
"This show has had some trouble finding itself," Johannessen admitted, "but creatively we're very happy with these seven. They really go somewhere."
Tonight the show deals primarily with Jordan as the writers explore how she's inherited her father's ability to sense good and evil and foresee cataclysmic events. The episode, titled "Saturn Dreaming of Mercury," includes a device that's become a "Millennium" hallmark: happy music, in this case "This Little Light of Mine," leading up to a horrific death.
Horton attributed the gimmick, first seen in "The X-Files" episode "Home," to former executive producer Glen Morgan.
"It's a little like the 'Jaws' theme," Horton said. "It eases you into those scenes, rather than just knocking you over by them."
The writers believe by melding the first season's hardcore crime drama with the second season's mythology, "Millennium" has finally found its niche.
"I think it's great they made the Millennium Group sinister [last season] because it works well as an embodiment of our concerns about the millennium and the weirdness out there," Johannessen said. "We're trying to represent those anxieties."
Horton said more of the show's mythology will be explored in the seven episodes that are expected to air without pre-emption.
"We knew this arc was coming and we decided to open up the series to really begin to focus on some of the things that have been hinted at," Horton said. "How does the group fit in with Frank, and how does Emma fit in with all this?"
The pair said Emma's father will be introduced, and she will get caught in a tug of war between Frank and Millennium Group agent Peter Watts (Terry O'Quinn).
That warring relationship between Frank and Watts is a more personal take on last season's divisions within the Millennium Group, when factions called Owls and Roosters were introduced.
"We didn't want things to turn into bickering within the Millennium Group, we wanted it personalized," Johannessen said.
"We wanted to reduce it down to two people: Watts represents the Group, and Frank represents us," Horton said. "Their struggle is of two friends who both believe what they believe, and each believes he is absolutely right and would love to convert the other to his way of thinking."
By the end of the season, Johannessen said Frank will have a deeper understanding of his mission on the planet as a holy man of sorts, but he'll also be on the run.
"The end of the season is not a cliffhanger, but it wraps up some things and raises new questions," Horton said.
As the show's opening credits read: Wait. Worry. The time is near.
But is it the time for "Millennium's" cancellation or renewal?
WEEKEND PREMIERES: How you feel about Michael Moore and his new series, "The Awful Truth," will depend a lot on how you felt about Moore's previous show, "TV Nation."
The new show is pretty much identical to the old show, with Moore again ambushing corporate executives and politicians for interviews. The biggest difference is this one is a half-hour instead of an hour, and Moore introduces segments from a stage in front of a studio audience.
In Sunday's debut (9 p.m. on cable's Bravo, available to some Adelphia customers and those who have TCI digital cable) Moore goes after independent counsel Kenneth Starr by staging a witch hunt and embarrasses an HMO public relations flack.
Another Sunday premiere looks familiar. Fox's "Family Guy" had a preview after the Super Bowl back in January. The animated sitcom, about a dysfunctional Rhode Island family, returns in its new weekly time slot, 8:30 p.m. following "The Simpsons."
The 10th and final season of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" begins its run at 11 p.m. Sunday on the Sci-Fi Channel. Sunday night original host Joel Hodgson and TV's Frank (Frank Conniff) return for a last hurrah.
When: 9 tonight on Fox.