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Going global could provide the magic 'Touch' for a new TV drama starring Kiefer Sutherland
NEW YORK (AP) ' Growing up in New York City, Jake Bohm has never uttered a word and recoils from any human touch, even by his dad.
The young hero of Fox's new drama, "Touch," he's an 11-year-old sage who finds patterns in numbers linking individuals all over the world. He foresees how one life can be touched by others in unlikely ways to their mutual benefit. Series star Kiefer Sutherland plays his father, who, desperate to connect with Jake (David Mazouz), serves as his mouthpiece and connection to the outside world.
On the series premiere, Jake uncovers urgent connections between a distraught flight attendant, a son visiting New York from India to spread his father's ashes, a kid in Moscow with a magic act, plus a cancer patient and a mobster. (It airs Thursday at 9 p.m. EDT, a follow-up to the pilot episode repeated last week after previewing in January.)
But the universal language of numbers and a rainbow coalition of characters aren't the only things that give "Touch" its global scope. The cosmic unity of "Touch" is also demonstrated in how it's being launched: all at once around the world.
In other words, "Touch" is a reminder that not only does one life potentially connect with every other, but, increasingly, so does every TV viewer intersect with TV audiences everywhere else. We are family, indeed.
Already, the globalization of U.S. television is becoming the norm. But a typical TV distribution pattern calls for a staggered rollout: A series airing this season on a U.S. network may not reach foreign viewers for months, even years.
Not so with "Touch," which is debuting concurrently in more than 100 countries. Within days it will be seen on Global Television in Canada, Sky 1 in the United Kingdom, ProSieben in Germany, Yes TV in Israel and Channel One in Russia. Fox International Channels will carry the series in 64 countries throughout Latin America, Asia and Europe.
Meanwhile, the consumer-products giant Unilever has signed on as global sponsor, airing its commercials on the show in markets around the world. (We are family as consumers, too.)
The goal of "Touch": to touch viewers nearly everywhere, simultaneously.
"There are 7 billion people in the world, and less than 400 million of them are in the United States," says Peter Chernin, a "Touch" executive producer. "So it's appropriate that a show about connectiveness is being released to the world in arguably the most connected way of any TV show ever."
The series has kicked off with a global promotional odyssey, a barnstorming tour by Sutherland that took him to London, Berlin, Madrid and Moscow. That was followed on Sunday by a world-premiere screening and satellite-linked shindig in New York that allowed fans from around the world, including Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Thailand and Turkey, to pose questions about "Touch" to its stars and producers via Twitter and Skype while watching the event as a webcast.
"Our show celebrates how diverse we all are, and then talks about the kind of human threads that connect us all," declared Sutherland in response to one tweeted inquiry.
"The story line travels to multiple countries in every episode, so it's only fitting that the marketing campaign should, as well," says Joe Earley, Fox Broadcasting's president of marketing and communications.
Sutherland's crush of publicity duties have been heaped on his hectic shooting schedule in L.A. (production doesn't wrap until next month), but it's paying off.
"An on-the-ground visit from the star is helping generate the kind of buzz you typically only have for a U.S. launch," says Marion Edwards, International TV president of 20th Century Fox Television Distribution.
She says Sutherland's presence on "Touch" has been crucial in selling the show internationally. Thanks to his past success on Fox's global hit "24," where he played indomitable counter-terrorist Jack Bauer, Sutherland is popular around the world.
Even so, no one thought of him initially to play devoted dad Martin Bohm.
"Kiefer's name was not on any of our lists," says "Touch" creator Tim Kring. "We assumed that coming off '24' after eight seasons, he probably wouldn't want to jump right back into that kind of grind."
But clearly he did, and his global profile dovetails nicely with the series' international thrust. And when Fox held the show for a midseason premiere, producers suddenly gained extra time to translate and dub the 13 episodes for international audiences. A full-scale global release seemed feasible without the customary lag.
"The elements came together in a way that's fairly unusual," notes Edwards. "We said, 'This is the time.'" That announcement was made at MIPCOM, the international entertainment market in France last October.
There was another good reason to tie the world together for "Touch" (and to hope this sort of release pattern can be replicated in the future for other series): The impact of "Touch" could have been drastically undercut by the Internet and a TV-watching world joined by social media.
"People are aware of everything all over the world almost instantaneously, as boundaries between countries are collapsing," says Chernin. "The traditional way of sequencing television shows is: premiere in the U.S. in the fall, then start appearing other places in the world in a sort of patchwork-quilt pattern. But I'm not sure that's relevant to the way the world consumes entertainment and information anymore."
Kring agrees. "We need to make each episode available to viewers when everybody really wants to see it ' that narrow window of heat is when you need to put it on the air, not two or three months later."
He says he got an early taste of the emerging global village of TV when he visited Paris early in 2007 for a promotional event for his previous series, "Heroes," which had premiered in the U.S. the previous September.
"We wondered if there would be any sort of a turnout," he recalls, "but there was a huge crowd of cheering fans at the theater. The shocker was, the show wasn't officially airing in France until that June.
"This idea of borders and time slots makes very little sense when it comes to fan-dom," Kring says. "The fans will find the show on their own."
But in the days ahead, few viewers in the world within sight of a TV should have to look hard to be "Touch"-ed.
EDITOR'S NOTE ' Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier