Alias is an American action television series created by J. J. Abrams which was broadcast on ABC for five seasons, from September 30, 2001 to May 22, 2006. It stars Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, a CIA agent.
The main theme of the series explores Sydney's obligation to conceal her true career from her friends and family, even as she assumes multiple aliases to carry out her missions. These themes are most prevalent in the first two seasons of the show. A major plotline of the series was the search for and recovery of artefacts created by Milo Rambaldi, a Renaissance-era character with similarities to both Leonardo da Vinci and Nostradamus. This plot and some technologies used in the series place Alias into the genre of science fiction.
Alias was in the American Film Institute's top ten list for television programs in 2003. British magazine Empire ranked it #35 in their list of the "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" and said "Alias was an action-packed weekly adventure that outclassed just about every other show in the genre."
Alias featured many other famous actors in roles ranging from single-episode guest appearances to semi-recurring characters, including Raymond J. Barry as Senator George Reed, Tobin Bell as Karl Dreyer, Peter Bergas Noah Hicks, David Carradine as Conrad, David Cronenberg as Dr. Brezzel, Faye Dunaway as Ariana Kane, Griffin Dunne as Leonid Lisenker, Vivica A. Fox as Toni Cummings, Ricky Gervais as Daniel Ryan, John Hannah as Martin Shepard, Rutger Hauer as Anthony Geiger, Ethan Hawke as James Lennox, Djimon Hounsou as Kazari Bomani, Richard Lewis as Mitchell Yaeger, Peggy Lipton as Olivia Reed, Sir Roger Moore as Edward Poole, Richard Roundtreeas Thomas Brill, Angus Scrimm as Calvin McCullough, Jason Segel as Sam Hauser, Christian Slater as Neil Caplan, Quentin Tarantino as McKenas Cole, Justin Theroux as Simon Walker, Keone Young as Professor Choy, and Danny Trejo as Emilio Vargas.
Although Alias was never considered a major "hit", its series run began during a time when the ABC television network was in decline, after Who Wants to Be a Millionaire saw its ratings plummet. In fact, Alias was one of the first shows to be placed in one of the old Who Wants to Be a Millionaire timeslots, which were Sunday nights at 9 p.m. (Eastern & Pacific time) in late 2001. Unlike many of the programs on ABC from 2001 to 2003, Alias was a series that garnered critical buzz, a cult following, and decent viewing numbers in the advertiser-friendly age 18–49 demographic. This led to ABC keeping the series on its schedule for 5 years.
Despite earning critical acclaim from USA Today for the January 26, 2003 episode entitled "Phase One" and attracting the largest audience of the series with 17.4 million viewers, this episode retained just 19 percent of the Super Bowl XXXVII audience and has the dubious distinction of earning the lowest overall ratings for a program airing after a Super Bowl since at least 1987 and the lowest rating ever (8.3 rating) in the age 18–49 demographic for a post-Super Bowl program. Also, since the episode started airing at 11 p.m. on the East Coast, it was not eligible for the week's list of top primetime shows ranked by Nielsen Media Research and thus, the episode's viewership numbers were not factored in the series' overall 2002–2003 season average.
Its ratings peak was reached in its fourth season, when ABC moved the program to Wednesdays 9 p.m. (Eastern & Pacific time), the time slot following another (yet more successful) J. J. Abrams' drama, Lost, while airing the season's episodes in (almost) consecutive weeks beginning with the January 5, 2005 2-hour season premiere (watched by 15.8 million viewers; the second most-watched episode in the series) and ending in May 2005. However, the fourth season was the only season in which this near-consecutive-week schedule was used and the increase in audience numbers was minimal since it faced hefty timeslot competition from the results show of the fourth season of Fox's mega-hit American Idol.
Coming off its most-watched season, Alias was moved to Thursdays 8 p.m. (Eastern & Pacific time) in the fall of 2005 by ABC in an effort to invigorate the network's lackluster Thursday night lineup. However, the move proved unsuccessful for the series, receiving the lowest viewership in the show's history. Alias became another scripted show in the history of ABC to not survive more than a year in this timeslot since Mork & Mindy was cancelled in 1982.
ABC gave the show a 4-month hiatus (to allow Jennifer Garner to give birth) and when it was brought back in April 2006, its new timeslot was Wednesdays at 8 p.m. However, the viewer numbers remained dismal, culminating in a 2-hour series finale airing on Monday, May 22, 2006 (against the season finales of the hit dramas, Fox's 24 and CBS' CSI: Miami) which attracted 6.68 million viewers. In comparison, the first season averaged 9.7 million viewers.
Seven years before season 1, Sydney Bristow was an undergraduate student of English literature when she was approached with a job offer by someone claiming to work for SD-6, which was supposedly part of the Central Intelligence Agency. She accepted the offer, and quickly became a field agent. In the pilot, she tells her fiancé Danny that she is a spy. As a result of revealing SD-6's existence to an outsider, her fiancé is murdered by SD-6. It is then that Sydney is told by her father Jack Bristow (another SD-6 agent) that SD-6 is not part of the CIA; instead, it is part of the Alliance of Twelve, an organization that is an enemy to the United States. Sydney decides to offer her services to the real CIA as a double agent.
She learns that her father is also a double agent for the CIA, when he notifies her that her offer is accepted. She begins the long and arduous task of destroying SD-6 from the inside.