No Arnold Schwarzenegger! No writers! No problem! A franchise is reborn with the launch of Fox's ''Terminator'' series. The cyborg's latest mission: To save all of mankind. Or at least the TV season

There are lots of breakables on the set of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Doors made of paper-thin balsa, cement walls that crumble like peanut brittle, windows that shatter with a tap. When you’re filming a show about unstoppable killer robots from the future — even made-for-TV ones that don’t speak with an Austrian accent — it pays not to get too emotionally attached to the scenery. ”Terminators don’t have a lot of finesse,” notes 26-year-old Summer Glau, who stars as a teenage cyborg on Fox’s new series based on the movies that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a superstar. (No, he won’t ”be back” for the TV show.) ”There’s not a lot of technique to the way they fight. They destroy whatever is in their way. They kill whatever they see.”

Viewers are hoping Terminators can be saviors as well, for the wasteland these machines now roam is not a post-apocalyptic future but the current writers’ strike. It’s hasta la vista for favorites like Desperate Housewives, Heroes, CSI, and 24 — the show that was supposed to act as a Monday-night companion for Sarah Connor (premiering Jan. 13) before the walkout in November put those plans in cryogenic freeze. But as we’ve seen so many times before, there’s no stopping these big metal guys: Writers had already turned in nine of the 13 scripts ordered for Sarah Connor‘s first season by the time the strike rolled around — enough dialogue to keep fresh episodes in circulation until March 3.

It is not only the fate of a network and millions of content-starved viewers at stake. The show’s creators hope that a successful run of Sarah Connor will help the launch of another round of Terminator movies (Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins is slated to arrive in theaters in 2009). But as Sarah Connor herself knows all too well, you have to succeed in the present to ensure the future. Picking up the plotline from the first two Terminator movies, the TV installment will carry on with the story of a mother and son on the run from automaton assassins sent by a sentient computer — Skynet — trying to wipe out humankind. ”It takes place just after the second Terminator movie,” explains 20-year-old Thomas Dekker, who plays young John Connor, savior-of-mankind-in-training. ”It’s a continuation of Eddie Furlong’s character — we sort of ignore Nick Stahl’s in T3 — only he’s in a darker, more mature place now. He’s time-traveled [to 2007] and has this Terminator helping him and he’s struggling with how he feels about her. She’s a Terminator, but she’s a Terminator that looks — let’s face it — like Summer Glau.”

He’s also got a mom who looks like Lena Headey. Taking over for Linda Hamilton is the 34-year-old British actress best known to American moviegoers as Queen Gorgo in the Grecian action flick 300. ”I saw the first Terminator movie on television when I was a teenager — it scared the hell out of me — but I hadn’t seen the second until Thomas got me to watch it with him,” she confesses. ”But I’m not doing a carbon copy of Linda Hamilton’s performance. You can’t do the same sort of performance for a TV show that you would in a movie — it’d be boring.” Although, she adds, ”we did do one flashback to a scene in T2 when the character is in a mental hospital. That was fun. That was my favorite so far.”

NEXT PAGE: ”Essentially, this show is our version of T3

Episode Recaps

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
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