The Sarah Connor Chronicles has to overcome futuristic killer robots and meet audience expectations.By Joseph Guinto

The new Fox series The Sarah Connor Chronicles films partly on the slice of Warner Bros. back lot recently vacated by the Gilmore Girls, which means that small-town america just became a whole lot scarier. Fictionally, anyway. actually, the two shows do share a common theme — both are about a single mother raising an only child. Of course, Lorelai Gilmore only had to deal with your normal mother-kid stresses, not the constant threat of a suspicious FBI agent; a plethora of murdering, time-traveling cyborgs; and the future fate of the entire human race.

And that’s just the beginning of the challenges, for both the mom in Sarah Connor and everyone else involved with the series. The show picks up roughly where the second Terminator film ended and thus shares the movies’ mythology. There’s still Skynet, there are still T-100s and other terminators, and it’s still John Connor’s job to save the world from the rise of the machines. But given that there’s one big element missing — arnold Schwarzenegger — all that stuff may just be beside the point. To work for episodic TV, this show has to have the very complicated relationship between a mother and her child at its core.

“Iconically, Schwarzenegger is the thing we remember from the films,” says 21-year-old Thomas Dekker, who plays John Connor in the Fox series. “But while people might have been scared of the Terminator or found him cool, emotionally what people were connected to was Sarah Connor and Kyle reese [Sarah’s guardian from the future] in the first movie and Sarah and John Connor in the second movie.”

Which is not to say that the terminators in Sarah Connor aren’t cool or scary. They’re both. (and, by the way, there’s more than one.) But they aren’t enough. On the big screen, you only need to capture the audience’s attention for two hours. On the small screen, you need to hold people captive for years at a time. For a science fiction series, that means making the otherworldly plotlines seem both impossible and everyday. It sounds hard, but it’s been done before. The best movie-to-TV franchise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, worked well because it was viewable as both a weekly serialized horror movie and a metaphor for the horrors of growing up when it seems that the pressures of the entire world are bearing down on you.

“We do have a single mother trying to raise her teenage son, so we’ll get to address all that sort of angst you deal with growing up,” says Lena Headey, who starred in last summer’s action hit 300 and is now playing the title character in Sarah Connor. “Plus, to all that, you have to add the fact that John is born to save the world.”

Right. Big plus. But there’s a big catch to go along with it. While no one is comparing Sarah Connor with Buffy just yet (and while I may be one of the few foolish enough to compare it with Gilmore Girls), Buffy had one major advantage: The movie was terrible. The Terminator films, on the other hand, were arnold-tastic. So regardless of how well executed the TV show is (and judging from the first few episodes, it’s pretty arnoldtastic itself), it is almost certain to suffer by comparison. and you can bet there will be comparison. On blogs and Internet chat boards, it’s already out there. It can’t be bargained with; it can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop. Ever.

That is, unless a five-foot-eight-inch, slightframed, doe-eyed robot from the future named Cameron can stop it. Cameron? Don’t remember a terminator named Cameron? That’s because she’s been created just for this series. The most advanced terminator model ever, Cameron is sent back in time to protect John from whatever comes to kill him. also, she sits next to him in homeroom. “My character was never in the films,” acknowledges Summer Glau, the Firefly and Serenity alumna who plays Cameron. “So I have a lot of freedom. But we feel pressure as a cast and crew. We want people to know that we have respect for the film but we are trying to do something different.”

Adds Dekker, “We’re not doing a remake. This is a reinterpretation.”

Ultimately, given that the show’s reinterpretation leaves out one particular terminator — one Arnold Schwarzenegger, unstoppable robot — who hunts John in his suburban hiding place, the success of Sarah Connor could be in Headey’s hands. We’ll need to believe that she’s Linda Hamilton. She’ll have to be capable of raising the future leader of mankind and also of making sure the kid doesn’t break curfew. The thing is, she’s off to a pretty good start. “all I can do is do my thing and play the role how I interpret it,” Headey says. “If that is embraced by audiences immediately, then that’s brilliant. If not, then I’ll break them down.”

From Big Screen to Small Screen» a brief and incomplete history of TV adaptations of feature films

1963: The Farmer’s Daughter
Sixteen years removed from the feature film of the same name, which starred Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten, this series won a Golden Globe and managed to collect a pile of Emmy nominations in just three full seasons. The plot followed a Swedish farm girl who moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a U.S. congressman’s maid. Happens all the time.

1969:The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
This 1963 movie about a widower whose son, Eddie, is trying to get him to remarry was perfect family-friendly TV for the late 1960s. And Bill Bixby, who went on to star as Bruce Banner in TV’s The Incredible Hulk, was the perfect lost-in-love father figure for four seasons. As long as no one made him angry. You wouldn’t like Eddie’s father when he’s angry.

1970:The Odd Couple
Could you improve on this Neil Simon play or on the movie by the same title starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau? Not really. And you could do a whole lot worse than this Tony Randall/Jack Klugman series, which lasted five years.

The 1970 movie, which starred Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, was no slouch, but the TV series, which ran for 11 years, is legendary. The show’s finale remains the highest-rated series-TV episode in history. Plus, the show taught us how to make a still.

1974:Planet of the Apes
For Charlton Heston, we’re willing to suspend disbelief and accept that apes run the world. But when it comes to the TV version, we’ve got to have more than Roddy McDowall in a ridiculouslooking rubber monkey suit. This series, based on the 1968 movie, produced exactly 14 episodes.

1988: In the Heat of the Night
It would have been hard to predict that Carroll O’Connor would go from All in the Family to this movie-turned- TV series about race relations in a small-town police force. But he did so to critical acclaim for six seasons, even though the show wasn’t quite as edgy as the 1965 novel or as the Oscar-winning 1967 movie that inspired it.

1990:Ferris Bueller
You know who was in this television adaptation of the hit 1986 John Hughes movie that starred Matthew Broderick? Jennifer Aniston. You know what else? You can’t make a good TV series about a guy who skipped school one day.

1997:Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Best. Adaptation. Ever. While the movie was neither scary nor compelling, the TV show about a teenage girl with a gift for doing in the undead kept you riveted. While the movie was pointlessly silly, the show peppered its dark plotlines with smart comic relief. And while the movie starred Luke Perry, the TV show, thankfully, did not.

2003: My Big Fat Greek Life
This short-lived series was a The Day After version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Frighteningly unwatchable.

Give Spike TV credit for trying to produce some original, scripted content rather than just airing another CSI rerun or a reality show in which guys kick each other in the face. Then take that credit away for the company’s having made a fun Wesley Snipes action-movie series into a boring TV show in which the characters talk too much.