From an idea given to him by Dawn Parouse, Paul Scheuring developed the idea for Prison Break and pitched it to FOX in 2003. The idea was rejected because of the lack of potential for an ongoing series. The show was rejected by other major networks and the idea was considered to make it into a miniseries. However after the ongoing success of 24 FOX changed their mind and commissioned the show.
Prison Break debuted on August 29, 2005 to a solid audience of 10.5 million viewers. The idea of a prison breakout was always going to have a dramatic appeal but it was the specific story of Michael Schofield that was gripping. Here was a man who was so smart that he planned a prison breakout from the outside. Here was a man who was so convinced of his brother's innocence that he had that plan tattooed permanently on his body and gave up his freedom to execute it. That confidence and conviction made Schofield a must-watch character and the sombre performance from Wentworth Miller felt just right.
Unfortunately Prison Break was never able to shake the feeling that it would have made a better mini-series than a full ongoing series. As the first season stretched out to twenty two episodes Schofield's secret conspiracy became pretty well known. By the season finale it felt like half of the inmates were escaping with him.
The audience held steady though for season two as the Fox River Eight made their escape. The plot became ever harder to follow as the machinations of the Company became more complex. The sense of reality began to shed too as many of the inmates avoided capture despite a national manhunt.
The audience declined steadily as the gang were re-imprisoned in Panama (season three) and formed their own A-team (season four). The producers wisely wrapped the season up in 2009 and gave closure to the characters in an additional two episodes called "Prison Break: The Final Break" which were made for DVD release.
When Lost reignited my passion for American television in 2005 I began to seek out other contemporary shows. Prison Break was one of the first that I came across and I was instantly hooked by Michael Schofield's daring plan. Even as the story was stretched out I still felt emotionally invested and liked the setup for season two with our characters on the run.
However things began to go south from there. I found season two confusing and implausible. The more we learnt about the Company, the less I cared and I began to believe that secret evil organizations are always a bad idea on TV. Season three was a blatant attempt to put the genie back in the bottle with Michael and company returning to prison.
However that season coincided with my first attempts to review other shows and so I covered it as I watched each episode. The tvcritic.org was live when season four aired and so those reviews chronicle my week by week disillusionment. Without spoiling anyone I will just say that season four pivoted on one twist which destroyed my enjoyment of the season.
I never did get round to covering "The Final Break" although I did watch it. In an ideal world I would go back and cover it along with seasons one and two. However it seems unlikely that that will happen any time soon. Perhaps one day it will be ripe for a re-watch but please don't hold your breath.
Prison Break is a show that actually didn't suit the American television model. Critically speaking FOX were right to raise the objection back in 2003 that the story had nowhere to go once the inmates broke out. To keep the story going we were treated to a number of silly twists.
I don't see much evidence that the lessons of Prison Break were learnt. 24 grinded repetitively on with the same kind of twists which drove me away. In 2011 Once Upon a Time was commissioned, a show about fairytale characters trapped in their own prison which I suspect will end up resorting to similar tricks.
Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead, two of the show's writers developed their own semi-spin-off called Breakout Kings which aired on A&E in 2011.