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<i>The Pretender</i> intertitle
The Pretender intertitle

The Pretender is an American action television series that aired on NBC from September 19, 1996 to May 13, 2000. It was part of NBC's action programming block, Thrillogy.[1]

The series follows Jarod, a young man on the run who is a "Pretender": a genius impostor able to quickly master the complex skill sets necessary to impersonate a member of any profession. In each episode, Jarod assumes a new professional identity (e.g. doctor, lawyer, soldier) in his quest to uncover his origins, deliver justice to criminal wrongdoers who evade the law, and stay one step ahead of The Centre, the sinister think tank that kidnapped Jarod as a child to exploit his Pretender abilities. According to show creators Steven Long Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle, the character of Jarod was inspired by serial impostor Ferdinand Waldo Demara[2].

Following NBC's cancellation of the series, two television movies continuing the storyline were aired on TNT: The Pretender 2001 and The Pretender: Island of the Haunted. In 2013, creators Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle began updating the story with a series of books and graphic novels. The first, The Pretender: Rebirth, was published on October 7, 2013.


Jarod (Michael T. Weiss) is a child prodigy who is abducted at a young age and raised in a think tank called the Centre, based in the fictional town of Blue Cove, Delaware. Told that his parents have died, Jarod is assigned to the care of a man named Sydney (Patrick Bauchau), a psychiatrist working for the Centre. During Jarod's youth, Sydney mentors the boy and regularly coaches him through complex simulations designed to exploit his intellect for real life application. But as an adult, Jarod discovers that the Centre is using data gathered from his responses for nefarious purposes, such as illegal black ops and engineering the deaths of others. Feeling responsible, Jarod escapes the Centre. Soon afterward, he discovers that the people whom he had long believed to be his parents actually were not, as Jarod has an anomaly in his blood that a father or mother would share—which neither of his supposed parents do.

The Centre is continually tracking down Jarod's location. The team in charge of recapturing him is Sydney, computer expert Broots (Jon Gries), and "Miss Parker" (Andrea Parker), a dogged and formidable operative who was raised in the Centre and knew Jarod as a child. Though she is no longer an active field operative, she is "recalled from Corporate" during the pilot episode [3] and put in charge of Jarod's recapture. While Sydney feels loyalty to Jarod and wishes his safe return, Miss Parker is under orders to "preferably" bring him in alive and will not hesitate to use deadly force. Fearing for Jarod's safety, Sydney at times undermines Miss Parker and will directly prevent her from using lethal methods to prevent Jarod's continued evasion of his pursuers. In the pilot, Parker questions Sydney's commitment to the Centre, telling him he can be a scientist for the Centre or "mommy" to Jarod, but not both.

Despite the Centre's resources, Jarod often stays a step or two ahead of his pursuers. While tracking down clues to his past and his parents, Jarod also targets criminals who have gone unpunished or undetected by the law. Through assumed identities (which involve different last names but always "Jarod" as a first name), he uncovers the truth about these crimes and lures the perpetrators into staged set-ups that emulate the harm they have done to others and forces them to confess their crimes, leading to their downfall. At times, he leaves Miss Parker and Sydney deliberate clues ("breadcrumbs") that point to the criminals he is targeting and why. During his adventures, Jarod also discovers the joys of the childhood he was denied while being raised in isolation, such as ice cream, a Slinky, and Silly Putty.

Loyalty is a recurring theme in the series. Sydney's loyalty to the Centre wavers when it concerns Jarod's safety and this rift increases when he discovers truths about what the organization did to his twin brother Jacob. During the first season, Jarod sends Miss Parker evidence that she too has been manipulated by the organization, which is led by her father ("Mr. Parker"). Miss Parker learns from Jarod that she was lied to about how her mother Catherine Parker had died. Further revelations are made concerning Miss Parker's origins and her brother. This puts her in a parallel to Jarod's quest of discovery and at times her loyalty wavers, though it never falters. When she and Jarod do share a romantic moment, Jarod questions if this will change things and Miss Parker replies it will not. "You run, I chase."

Though Jarod learns more about his family, there are still unanswered questions when the series ends after four seasons. The series finale closed with both characters being nearby an exploding bomb. The ending did not reveal whether Jarod and/or Miss Parker survived the blast. The next year, the telemovie The Pretender 2001 picked up directly from this cliffhanger, leading into Jarod's next adventure.



The building seen in nearly every episode and identified as "The Centre" is actually the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

After the series was cancelled, it was picked up in syndication by TNT. In response to an outpouring of emails from fans, which prompted negotiations involving the show's creators and both NBC and TNT, two telemovies – The Pretender 2001 and Island of the Haunted – were aired on TNT in 2001.[4] Both movies ended with an unresolved cliffhanger.

The creators of the show, Steven Mitchell and Craig van Sickle stated in an interview on the French DVD of the telemovies that an ending was written for the series; they just needed financing to create it. In a September 2007 interview on the miniseries Tin Man, Mitchell and van Sickle noted that fans were still requesting an ending and that it would happen "soon" due to a relationship with "Strange Highway" Entertainment. They also noted that the story line would continue digitally on the web.[5] On May 21, 2008, van Sickle again expressed interest in having a final episode or film to finish the movie, and asked fans to continue to be patient until it happens.[6]

Novels and Rebirth of series

On July 8, 2013, it was announced through The Pretender Creators Facebook page that The Pretender will be reborn and that on July 19 at 2 P.M. PDT will be the official announcement to the fans worldwide on details of the first exciting way The Pretender will be reborn.[7]

On July 19th, Steve and Craig announced to the world that they will be bringing back the Pretender in several new ways: books first, then graphic novels and then mini-series/movies, as stated in their interview:[8]

The first Pretender novel Rebirth was released on September 22, 2013 in eBook and paperback through Amazon.[9] The second Pretender novel Saving Luke was released on May 12, 2014 in eBook and paperback, also through Amazon.[10]

Profiler crossover

Michael T. Weiss portrayed Jarod on the TV series Profiler during an NBC crossover event. The first half of the plot unfolded on The Pretender (season 3 episode 19 "End Game"), in which two lead characters from Profiler, Dr. Samantha "Sam" Waters (Ally Walker) and Bailey Malone (Robert Davi) guest-starred. The conclusion takes place in an episode of Profiler (season 3 episode 19 "Grand Master") in which Michael T. Weiss guest-starred. Jarod's alias at the time is Jarod Doyle, a police officer. He vanishes at the end of the episode, presumably on to another "pretend."

After Profiler's main character, Sam Waters, was replaced with a new profiler, Rachel Burke (Jamie Luner), there was another Pretender/Profiler crossover in which Jarod had a short lived romance with the new profiler. The first half of the crossover between Jarod and Rachel takes place on The Pretender (season 4 episode 10 "Spin Doctor") and concludes on Profiler (season 4 episode 10 "Clean Sweep"). Jarod also later appeared on the season 4, episode 18 episode of Profiler ("Pianissimo").

Nielsen ratings

Awards and nominations

FAITA Award (also known as First Americans in the Arts Awards):

  • Outstanding Guest Performance by an Actor in a TV Drama Series – Tyler Christopher (2001)

Young Artist Awards:

  • Best Performance in a TV Drama Series — Guest Starring Young Actor – Seth Adkins (1999)
  • Best Performance in a TV Drama Series — Supporting Young Actor – Ryan Merriman (1998–1999)

Emmy Awards:

Golden Satellite Award:

  • Best TV Series—Drama (1998–1999)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Drama Series – Michael T. Weiss (1998–1999)
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Drama Series – Andrea Parker (1999)

Saturn Award:

  • Best Genre TV Actor – Michael T. Weiss (1998)

Young Artist Award:

  • Best Performance in a TV Drama Series for Guest Starring Young Actor – Zachary Browne (1998)
  • Best Performance in a TV Drama Series for Guest Starring Young Actress – Caitlin Wachs (2000)
  • Best Performance in a TV Drama Series for Guest Starring Young Actress – Ashley Peldon (1999)
  • Best Performance in a TV Drama Series for Young Actor – Ryan Merriman (1997)
  • Best Performance in a TV Drama Series for Young Actress – Ashley Peldon (1997)

YoungStar Award:

  • Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Drama TV Series – Ryan Merriman (1997,1999–2000)

Home media

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released all 4 seasons on DVD in Region 1 between 2005-2006.[11][12][13][14] They also released the two Pretender movies together as a set on March 13, 2007.[15] All 4 seasons were re-released on May 26, 2009, with new packaging.

All episodes from the first two seasons are available for purchase online through's video on demand service.[16][17]

Heroes and Icons: The Pretender [25] (TV Network)


Thrillogy was a sci-fi/action programming block on NBC's Saturday night that debuted in Fall of 1996 with the three action or sci-fi series, Dark Skies, The Pretender and Profiler. For the 1997–1998 season, Dark Skies was replaced by Sleepwalkers, but only five episodes were broadcast. The block's name was not used for the 1998–1999 season when the short-lived Wind on Water replaced Sleepwalkers nor with the 1999–2000 season as Freaks and Geeks. The name returned with the 2000 mid-season addition of The Others paranormal series.[18]

See also

  • T.H.E. Cat—a forerunner of the "expert(s) help(s) people in trouble" genre
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