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Lena Headey, Thomas Dekker and Summer Glau star in the television-ization of the "Terminator" saga — a new series subtitled "The Sarah Connor Chronicles."

Sarah Connor is a single mother not unlike millions of other single mothers. (And dozens of other single mothers on TV shows.) She's devoted to her teenage son, John, and she'll stop at nothing to protect him.

Unlike the offspring of most single mothers, however, her son is threatened by cyborgs — Terminators — from the future. And Sarah had better protect John because he will one day be the savior of mankind.

The character from the first two "Terminator" movies is back, but she's not on the big screen this time. She's the lead character in "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," the new weekly series that debuts Sunday at 7 p.m. on Fox/Ch. 13. It's a continuation of the movies, in a way — it's an action-packed thrill ride — but it's also a different way to tell the story.

The weekly series is "an opportunity to explore Sarah Connor's character and the problems that this mother would encounter raising a 15-year-old son and trying to teach him to be a good man while being in extreme danger," said consulting producer James Middleton. "That's something that we feel we can do better in a television show than in a two-hour movie.

"The other thing the series allows us to do is change the narrative dynamic. The movies are a chase dynamic. And in our show, Sarah Connor is on the attack. She is the one who is searching and trying to root out Skynet," the "pernicious, evil force from the future."

For the uninitiated, in the "Terminator" mythology's future, the computer system Skynet declares war on humans and annihilates billions. John Connor leads a human army fighting a winning war against the artificial intelligence.

So Skynet creates the cyborg Terminators and sends them back in time to change history, first by attempting to kill Sarah (in "Terminator") and then by killing John (in "Terminator 2").

(All of this is made clear enough in the series that you don't have to have seen any of the movies.)

Lena Headey ("300") takes over the role of Sarah played by Linda Hamilton in the first two movies; Thomas Dekker ("Heroes") stars as John (played by Edward Furlong in "T2" and Nick Stahl in "T3").

"This is a story of two people (and) you want to find out what's going to happen," said David Nutter, who directed the pilot. "How is John Connor going to grow up? How is Sarah Connor going to take care of him? This is a mother-and-son show. This is a show that we can all very much relate to."

"How does Sarah raise a son to be the leader of the free world?" Friedman said. "You can't do it by just teaching him to shoot guns. You have to teach him how to be a man and how to lead from a moral place. So I think it's more than just shooting stuff."

Which is not to say that there isn't a whole lot of action and special effects. There are spectacular explosions, gunbattles and battles between good Terminators and bad Terminators that will rattle your teeth.

This time around, the good Terminator, Cameron (a shout-out to "Terminator" co-writer and director James Cameron) is in the form of a lovely young woman, played by Summer Glau ("Firefly"/"Serenity").

"I think that the way that we're going to make my Terminator the most advanced model so far is in her human traits," Glau said.

"Chronicles" picks up shortly after the events in "Terminator 2," and completely ignores the events of "Terminator 3."

"This really is, as far as I'm concerned, 'T3,"' said writer/executive producer Josh Friedman. "I mean, this is a continuation of what I would call the Sarah Connor trilogy."

And, in the series, the events that take place in the future seen in "T3" may never happen.

"This is a new fate for Sarah Connor, so we are creating an entirely new timeline," Middleton said.

"'T2"' was released in 1991; its storyline ended in approximately 1997. "Chronicles" opens in 1999, but the characters jump forward in time to the present day in the first episode — a decision that was both "an aesthetic one, and, I think, storywise will turn out to be an important one," Friedman said. "There's reasons to come to this specific time, this specific place."

He said that other characters will jump back in time to the present day, but there are no plans for anyone to jump into the future.

In coming weeks (nine episodes were completed before Hollywood writers went on strike), Sarah learns that there is a "vast conspiracy" in present-day Los Angeles, that there are "many, many aspects of this technology and how it's formed. And she has bitten off a little bit more than she can chew," Middleton said.

"We have a really great opportunity to kind of really explore human value and humankind," Friedman said. "Obviously, there's a race of Terminators coming who think that humankind is no value, and I think a lot of the show is how do you prosecute a war against a force that doesn't value you at all or value themselves at all? How do you do that and still maintain your own humanity?"

According to Middleton, "one of the core things" about the show is "faith."

"Our characters operate and fight a battle every episode based on faith that they can prevent Judgment Day (the apocalypse)," he said. "Now they're going to do everything that they can to do that. But the odds against them are formidable. They have a formidable enemy. So how they operate every day is to fight the fight the best they can in each episode."

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com