9 things you can pretend you always knew about 'The Pretender'

By: H&I Staff    Posted: January 10, 2019, 9:51AM

Some roles are far more than just a role. When Michael T. Weiss stepped in as the lead on The Pretender, he did not just portray Jarod, an imposter with a mysterious past pursued by mysterious people, but also the dozens of different people Jarod pretended to be. It was one of those great chameleon roles in sci-fi, like Quantum Leap, which delivered a new persona each week. 

The action series developed a cult following when it aired on Saturdays around the turn of the millennium. Today, you can see it each Saturday on H&I. Let's slip into character and look at nine fascinating facts about The Pretender

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1

The show was inspired by a real-life imposter.

Born in Massachusetts in 1921, Ferdinand Waldo Demara lied his way into dozens of professions throughout his life. He posed as a surgeon, a monk, a lawyer, a prison warden, a civil engineer and many other professions. A photographic memory helped him along the way. At one point, he ended up bluffing his way as a surgeon for the Canadian Navy during the Korean War, even improvising his way through surgeries. Take that, Alan Alda!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

2

There was a movie based on the guy, too.

Tony Curtis portrayed Demara in the 1961 movie The Great Imposter. Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle, creators of The Pretender, were admitted fans of the film, and took inspiration from the character / real imposter, fusing those influences to ideas from The Fugitive to come up with Jarod, the Pretender!

3

The pilot scored higher with test audiences than any NBC show since 'Bonanza.'

When Mitchell and Van Sickle presented the series pilot to NBC, the execs walked out of the first cut, according to the creators' blog. The network didn't get the show and worried it had a turkey on its hands. Well, they were wrong. Once NBC began testing the pilot with audiences, it scored through the roof. It scored better than ER had. In fact, it scored better than any NBC pilot since Bonanza, half a century earlier. Suddenly, the network realized it had a hit.

4

The series ends on an explosive cliffhanger.

At the end of "The Inner Sense (Part 2)," the last episode of the fourth and final season of The Pretender, our two main characters, Jarod and Miss Parker, find themselves on a subway train carrying a ticking timebomb. The two move to the back of the train. They must jump from the speeding car. The timer counts down to zero… BOOM. A massive explosion rocks the tunnel, sending plumes of fire up into city streets. And that's it. That's the end. What happened to Jarod and Miss Parker? Well, you never find out! Well, not unless you had cable and waited a year.

5

There were two made-for-TV movie sequels.

In 2001, Jarod returned to television, after NBC canceled the series in 2000. This time, he was on basic cable, starring in two made-for-TV movies on TNT, The Pretender 2001 and The Pretender: Island of the Haunted. The first film picks up after the climactic explosion of the series finale. They're alive! (Of course.) Because the show loved a good cliffhanger, these two movies end on teasing notes, too. There always seems to be a "To be continued…," even if it is not explicitly stated.

Image: The Everett Collection

6

"The Centre" was really a Canadian water treatment plant.

Jarod works out of mysterious think tank called The Centre in Blue Cove, Delaware, a fictional town. In real life, the building is the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant in Toronto, Ontario. It's quite a popular location for imposing institutions. It showed up as an asylum in both In the Mouth of Madness (1995) and Strange Brew (1983). You can also spot it in Half Baked (1998) and Robocop: The Series.

7

There was a crossover with Profiler.

If you were casually watching TV at the end of the millennium, there's a good chance you confused The Pretender and Profiler at some point. After all, both started with "Pr…" and aired back-to-back in NBC's Saturday night "Thrillogy" block. The two shows finally crossed over in their third seasons, as The Pretender episode "End Game" continued in the Profiler episode "Grand Master." 

Image: NBC

8

Michael T. Weiss was in a 'Dark Shadows' reboot.

No, we're not talking about that Tim Burton movie with Johnny Depp. It often goes overlooked, but the 1966–71 vampire soap opera was first rebooted in 1991. Dan Curtis, the creator of the original series, was behind the modern update, giving it credibility. Weiss played Joe Haskell, the boyfriend of bloodsucking beauty Daphne Collins (Rebecca Staab).

Image: The Everett Collection

9

He also voiced Tarzan for Disney.

Disney retold the eternal tale of ape-man in a 1999 feature film. Perhaps you remember the Phil Collins music. Three years later, the House of Mouse released a direct-to-video sequel, Tarzan & Jane, with Michael T. Weiss stepping into the role of Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn voiced the character on the big screen). This led to a cartoon series, The Legend of Tarzan, also starring Weiss, which aired from 2001–3.

Image: The Everett Collection