Created by Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle, the weekly, hour-long NBC fantasy adventure series The Pretender starred Michael T. Weiss as Jarod Russell, who had the ability to assume any personality and handle any job at a second's notice. A former child prodigy, Jarod was supposedly orphaned at any early age, at which point his fate was placed in the hands of the Centre, a secret facility in Blue Cove, DE. Here, the young Jarod (played in the series' frequent flashback sequences by child actor Ryan Merriman) was befriended by psychiatrist Dr. Sydney Green (Patrick Bauchau), who was dedicated to carefully cultivating and developing the special skills possessed by Jarod and other such "pretenders." Unfortunately, the people who ran the Centre -- headed by evil genius Dr. William Raines (Richard Marcus) -- intended to auction Jarod off to the highest bidder, and when he found this out he escaped, moving Fugitive-style from town to town, using his chameleon-like powers for good instead of evil.
Ever so gradually, Jarod learned the truth about his life before the Centre, and also found out that most of the "biography" fed to him by his captors was a lie -- especially the part about his parents being dead. Meanwhile, Jarod was pursued by Miss Parker (Andrea Parker), a glamorous paid assassin who likewise grew up in the Centre -- and when it looked as though Miss Parker would never be able to eliminate her quarry, a rival team of assassins, Brigitte (Pamela Gidley) and Bobby Lyle (Jamie Denton), was sent out to finish the job, leading to some fascinating "turf battles." Ultimately, Miss Parker discovered that she too had been a cruelly manipulated pawn of the Centre (for one thing, she'd never been informed that Bobby Lyle was her own brother), whereupon she shifted alliances and became Jarrod's friend and loyal aide -- just as she'd been when they were both children. Alas, they could not alert the authorities to the Centre's dirty work, thanks to the Sweepers, an ultra-efficient band of minions who meticulously "cleaned up" all evidence of the villains' skullduggery. Fortunately, Jarod and Miss Parker were able to rely on a handful of staunch allies, notably Broots (Jon Gries), the Centre's neurotic resident computer wonk. Also occasionally on hand was Angelo (Paul Dillon), a fellow "pretender" who'd been unhinged by the same brainwashing methods used on Jarod, and whose actions were, to say the least, unpredictable. Debuting September 19, 1996, The Pretender ended its weekly run on August 26, 2000. The plot strands left dangling when the series ended were neatly knotted up by a brace of spin-off TV movies, both of which starred Michael T. Weiss and Andrea Parker, and both of which were telecast in 2001.