Steven Spielberg briefly showed interest in realising Scheuring's pitch as a 14-part miniseries, but in the intervening time, Fox had noted the new-found popularity of serial dramas such as ABC's Lost and their own 24. The network gave Scheuring a second chance, and so Prison Break was born...
Prison Break: Originally broadcast from August 29, 2005 to May 15, 2009
Fox was ultimately right to take a chance on Scheuring - the unique format is part of what makes this show's first season so great. Before entering the imposing Fox River prison facility, Michael Scofield - played by the impossibly handsome Wentworth Miller - has the finer details of his escape plan tattooed onto his body.
Handily, Scofield helped to design Fox River himself and each week another piece of the puzzle slotted into place as the dashing engineer-turned-criminal came ever close to breaking out. It's a testament to how addictive the show's storytelling became that this writer - armed with a DVD boxset - watched most of the first season in a single day...
Michael's foes/uneasy allies were also personified by a range of talented actors - Wade Williams excels as antagonistic correctional officer Brad Bellick, while Peter Stormare made for a terrific John Abruzzi and Paul Adelstein brought a chilling stillness to the role of 'Company' assassin Kellerman.
And of course, who can forget Robert Knepper as Theodore 'T-Bag' Bagwell? Both charming and creepy, as frightening as he was hilarious, the psychopathic T-Bag was a gift of a role and you can tell that Knepper knew it - he positively sets the screen alight.
After an aborted attempt at midseason, Scofield, his burly brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) and a rag-tag gang of crooks eventually escaped Fox River in the first season finale. Season two picked up eight hours after the break-out and followed the fates of the various escapees - known as the 'Fox River Eight' - on the run.
While the show's characters gained their freedom, Prison Break undoubtedly lost something when it stepped outside Fox River's walls. That said, season two is still top-notch entertainment, but very different to the episodes that preceded it - think The Fugitive given a '00s twist.
Crucially, going into its second year, Prison Break was never afraid to be bold. A number of central characters - Abruzzi, the mentally unstable Haywire (Silas Weir Mitchell), wannabe gangster Tweener (Lane Garrison) - were killed in their attempts to escape the authorities.
It's generally acknowledged that the latter half of Prison Break is substantially weaker than the first two seasons, with most pointing to season three as the show's low point. But this writer would like to make a case for the defence - the third season, which sees Michael Scofield, T-Bag and others incarcerated in Panama's hellish Sona prison - is actually grossly under-rated.
The return to a prison environment restores a little of the atmosphere that made the first season so great, and the new cast additions were also welcome - Robert Wisdom's prison dictator Lechero and Laurence Mason's hateful henchman Sammy made for delightfully hiss-able villains.
Even the decision to kill off Sara Tancredi - necessitated by Sarah Wayne Callies's unwillingness to return and lambasted by fans at the time - kind of makes sense, proving the Scofield character with some much-needed emotional development.
Season three's main flaw is that it ends far too abruptly. T-Bag had seized control of Sona, Michael had escaped and was on a mission of vengeance... and then the writers went on strike. Cut down to just 13 episodes by the 2007-08 Writer's Guild strike, the season wraps up just as things were getting really interesting...
It's with its fourth and final season that the wheels really start to come off of Prison Break - things start off strong, but a string of bizarre and unlikely twists quickly stretch credulity to its limits. Don Self (Michael Rapaport) is really a villain! Michael and Lincoln's long-dead mother is actually alive - and she's a villain too!
Michael Scofield's character is also reinvented as some kind of all-purpose genius. Sure, he was always a smart guy, but the reason he was able to break out of Fox River was because he helped build it - and even then it took a heck of a lot of planning. By the final season, he's able to break in and out of any high-security facility with relative ease...
Still, season four has its moments - mostly towards the final episodes, as each member of Scofield's gang is exonerated - with the exception of the vile T-Bag - and Michael, diagnosed with a brain tumour, nobly sacrifices his life to save the pregnant Tancredi. Despite the jumbled mess that came before them, these final scenes do succeed in tugging at the heartstrings.
Prison Break struggled to get on air back in 2005, but a mere four years later, it seemed like the show was determined to stick around. Fans were treated to both a traditional series finale and an additional extended TV movie to wrap things up, while Robert Knepper's T-Bag returned to our screens two years after the show had ended, popping up in A&E drama Breakout Kings - the new project from Prison Break executive producers Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead...
Have we finally seen the last of the Fox River clan? Who knows, but while we wait to find out, why not check out Prison Break on DVD or Blu-ray - a complete series box-set is available in both formats! It's not a perfect show, but it's often outrageously entertaining and - at its peak - was a near-perfect example of slick, fun TV fodder - so go enjoy!
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