Florian Schneider, Fox
Summer Glau, Lena Headey and Thomas Dekker in "Chronicles."

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The producers of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" had a built-in audience when their show debuted back in January — the millions of fans of the "Terminator" movies.

But it was a double-edged sword, because so many of them seemed so anxious to dislike the TV series because it wasn't the movies. And Arnold Schwarzenegger was nowhere to be seen.

"People didn't really know ... what to expect of our show. If we were going to try to repeat what the movies did," executive producer James Middleton said. "And I think what happened, even in our abbreviated season, is that people started to learn what our show was. And that it was really an inspection of this character, Sarah Connor, and all the people around her."

As it turned out, "Chronicles" was good. And it got better as its nine-episode season rolled along (cut short from 13 by the writers' strike). Which won over a whole bunch of skeptics.

"Everyone knows what 'Terminator' is," said executive producer Josh Friedman. "Yet I think that in a weird way worked against us because I think there was a lot of people who sat there and said, 'There is no way this can be a TV show. I just don't think they can do it."'

Friedman said a lot critics started out thinking the show would be terrible. "In a way that's the most gratifying as I actually felt like, while there were a lot of fans, we had to convert a lot of people. ... I felt like after the first couple of episodes, there were people who went, 'Oh, wow, they have a plan and maybe they can do this."'

Actually, we can erase that "maybe." As the second season begins (Monday, 7 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13), "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" continues to be a darn good series, whether you were a fan of the movies or not.

Monday's episode picks up right where May's season finale left off. Cameron (Summer Glau) has just been blown up, but, remember, she's a Terminator. (A cyborg from the future, for those of you who aren't up on the story.) Although even Terminators can, um, be affected by getting blown up.

(I'm trying not to give too much away here.)

"It's a very big, very ambitious episode, and almost every character goes through a major change, unexpected change," Friedman said. "It's a pretty big deal.

"There's a lot of the fighting, a lot of mayhem, but in a tasteful way," he added with a laugh.

And still to come in the second episode of Season 2 is the addition of Riley (Levin Rambin), who's sort of a regular girl who attracts the attention of John (Thomas Dekker). Which just might play into the relationship between human boy John and the cyborg girl Cameron.

"I'll just say every interesting relationship I've been in was a triangle," executive producer John Wirth said.

The producers promise the storylines will continue — Sarah (Lena Headey) will still be leading the fight to prevent the computer system Skynet from being invented, taking over the world and slaughtering most of humanity. But, at the same time, they're promising episodes will be more self contained.

The theme for the second season is "evolution," according to Friedman.

"And Sarah's war has gotten a lot more complicated and grander than she ever expected," Middleton added.

Sounds like fun.

NETWORK NOTES: If you've ever wondered how network executives affect the shows on their schedule, here's how Josh Friedman recalled a meeting he had with Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly:

"I said to Kevin Reilly, 'There will be a girl — maybe Episode 7 (or) 8,"' Friedman said. "He said, 'Episode 2.'

"I said, 'Like Episode 7, 8, 9, 10. Somewhere in there.' He said, 'Oh, 1 or 2.'

"So, we compromised on 2."

Not that Friedman is holding a grudge.

"Even though it's spelled differently (Riley vs. Reilly), I named her after Kevin," he said.

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