It's "Zero Hour" for Anthony Edwards, somewhat literally. The former "ER" star consciously stepped away from television after finishing his tenure in 2002 as Dr. Mark Greene on that long-running drama, but he's ready to get back in the game. He does that Thursday with the premiere of his new ABC suspense drama about a paranormally inclined publisher desperate to find his kidnapped wife (Jacinda Barrett, "Poseidon"), whose interest in old timepieces leads to her disappearance.
The vanishing is tied to a mystery sparked by the Nazis' reign in Germany -- as detailed in the debut episode's prologue -- and also to an antique clock with surprising contents. The husband's resulting globe-spanning search links him to the mercenary abductor (Michael Nyqvist, of the original movies adapted from the "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" literary trilogy) and an unrelenting FBI agent (Carmen Ejogo, "Alex Cross").
Addison Timlin and Scott Michael Foster play Edwards' character's magazine colleagues, who assist in his hunt; Charles S. Dutton ("Roc") also appears as a helpful clergyman. Created by executive producer Paul T. Scheuring ("Prison Break"), "Zero Hour" inspired Edwards to take up series work again because of how unique he believes it is.
"I very intentionally took many years off," he says, "having felt complete and great from 'ER.' I knew there was a time to really focus on my family. We moved to New York, traveled around the world for a year and did all kinds of great things.
"About a year and a half ago, I got offered a play... and I was like, 'Hmm. I could wrap my mind around doing that for six months, and if I'm ready for that, maybe I'm ready to go back and play in the medium I really love.' "
Edwards began developing television projects, and shortly after one just missed the cut at Showtime, the "Zero Hour" script came his way.
"It just hit me," he says. "I thought, 'If they're crazy enough to make this, I'm crazy enough to want to do it.' It just read differently. I hadn't seen this on network television, and it had a character I immediately related to, so I was like, 'Let's try it.' "
The reputation Scheuring built from the mazelike plotting over four seasons of "Prison Break" was a particular lure for Edwards, who confirms, "Paul's history and experience was an immediate thing for me. And I've known (fellow executive producers) Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Dan McDermott for years, so I knew this was coming in at a really high level."
It also provided Edwards -- whose portrayal of Navy pilot Goose is getting new exposure this month in the 3-D refitting of "Top Gun," both in theaters and on home video -- with someone completely fresh to play.
"It was really a relief that the character was not a doctor or a lawyer or a policeman," he says of playing someone defined by the name of his publication, Modern Skeptic. "There are a lot of great stories to be told in those worlds, but I'm just not a procedural kind of person.
"Every episode doesn't have to have a beginning, middle and end," Edwards adds, "if you can put all the episodes] together. '24' proved that."
Indeed, continuity can be a challenge in such instances, since what happens during one hour must stay true to what came before... particularly in a situation such as "Zero Hour," which has to fit together neatly like a completed puzzle to give its audience full satisfaction.
"The hours are pretty amazing," Edwards notes about working to fulfill that mission, "but the truth is that when I did 'ER,' we had a newborn child at our house every two years for eight years. To be able to come home and get eight hours of sleep, then, this seems very doable to me. That was a different kind of a grind, and it's a different time in my life. I'm in New York, and I'm really loving it. I don't mind the long hours.
"We're shooting all over the city, and we're using locations that we've never seen on television before, because this style of show hasn't been shot in New York before. You're asked to take audiences around the world, and 'Alias' and other shows did that in L.A. I think there's a visual freshness to this, and that's as exciting as anything else. With 'ER,' we'd be inside maybe six days and outside for two, and this is the other way around. We're two days on our soundstage and six days out.
"When we're shooting in the studio, I can literally run to work. I live three miles from Silvercup (Studios in Long Island City), so I can run along the East River on bike paths, go over the Queensboro Bridge, take a shower and go to work. This is a city that's figured out how to get people around for a long time."
According to Edwards, the first season of "Zero Hour" will tell a full story from beginning to end, "and we'll go on to a new adventure next year if we get picked up. I think people like to have chunks of shows where they get a whole story. Cable does it all the time. I was right there, watching the season finale of 'Homeland,' and I'm OK to wait another six months or a year for the next installment."
LI SCENES ON 'ZERO HOUR'
There's a whole wide world on Long Island, and that means the globe-trotting new ABC drama "Zero Hour" can zero in on local locales -- hopping continents without having to hop a plane.
Rafael Lima, one of the location managers for a show he calls "a good mixture of '24' and 'The Da Vinci Code,' " has sent the production to mansions in Gold Coast communities such as Lattingtown and Sands Point, as well as to the historic Mill Neck Manor in Mill Neck. And though a Peruvian jungle scene was filmed just outside Nassau County, in an overgrown patch of Fort Totten, Queens, "We used portions of the marshlands at Caumsett State Park to stand in for a remote island," says Lima, who has also scouted locations for series including USA Network's "Suits" and Showtime's "The Big C."
The show's airport and airfield scenes, he says, were all shot at Farmingdale's Republic Airport, where restrictions are fewer than at others and "you can get on the tarmac to shoot an actual plane in motion."
Following a pilot episode that was shot in Montreal, there are another dozen episodes of "Zero Hour," based at Queens' Silvercup Studios, being filmed in the vicinity.
"It's a challenge to find a certain kind of architecture that is non-American in the tristate area," Lima says, "and Long Island has more than a few options to satisfy that."
-- FRANK LOVECE