The masterminds behind Fox's midseason mystery preview its upcoming premiere

By Dan Snierson
Updated January 06, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

On Jan. 16, Fox will debut a mysterious island drama exec-produced by J.J. Abrams and starring Jorge Garcia. No, it’s not a Lost spin-off: Alcatraz follows a young detective (Sarah Jones) and an Alcatraz historian (Garcia) who team up with an enigmatic government official (Sam Neill) to figure out why convicts in the infamous prison vanished in 1963 and are now popping up unaged in San Francisco. ”These guys are the worst of the worst, and our team is up against all odds to catch them because they essentially don’t exist,” says exec producer Jennifer Johnson. ”We’re chasing ghosts, and that’s what makes this ride so fun.” Daniel Pyne joined Johnson as a showrunner after co-creator Elizabeth Sarnoff exited this fall over creative differences. In addition to some reshoots, Johnson and Pyne worked at strengthening characters’ relationships and energizing the fugitive-of-the-week stories. The goal has always been to make Alcatraz a user-friendly mystery show: ”It’s an easy setup in that there’s always someone to go after in a given episode,” Garcia notes. That said, he thinks the big questions will entice viewers who crave a little mythology with their procedural action. ”How do we explain how it’s happening? Who’s the guy pulling the knobs and strings? The connection between the two time periods is what excites me the most.”