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Donnie Wahlberg as Paul Rader and Leslie Hope as Lily Rader star in "Runaway" on The CW. (Brooke Palmer/CW)

'Runaway' has stars, but needs originality

Sometimes Hollywood math says it best. ``Running on Empty" + ``The Fugitive" = ``Runaway," the new CW series that premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 56. The drama is about a family on the run, after Dad is wrongly accused of murder. The U S Marshals Service stays close on their trail, while Dad tries to gather evidence to exonerate himself.

The show has a few distinctions, notably the solid leading-man presence of Donnie Wahlberg, who deserves another prime-time opportunity after NBC fumbled ``Boomtown." As Paul Rader, a lawyer framed for the killing of an associate at his firm, he has a flawed, distant nobility. He plays Paul's guilt quietly, as a man who has had to dislodge his family from their comfortable Maryland home. With his plain face and sympathetic eyes, he captures Paul's mixed emotions about having to encourage his three children to lie.

Also a plus: Leslie Hope from season 1 of ``24" as Paul's wife, Lily. Hope knows how to play stalwart but stressed, and her bottled-up Lily sometimes looks about to explode as the family relocates. In one scene, she sinks to a low as she tells a cop she's a displaced person from Hurricane Katrina. But you know that, because the real murderer is threatening to harm her kids, she has no shame in doing anything -- including sacrificing her own dignity -- to protect them.

The problem with the CW show, the only new drama on the WB-UPN combo channel, is the Hollywood math. We've seen this on-the-lam material many times before, and it offers very familiar family tensions -- will 8-year old Tommy blow the family's cover? -- and close-call FBI suspense.

Also problematic is the danger that executive producer Darren Star and his writers will focus too closely on the cliche d melodramas of the show's teen kids, Henry (Dustin Milligan) and Hannah (Sarah Ramos). That would turn ``Runaway" into just another CW broodfest. Henry's a moody pinup boy, and his split from his girl-friend could result in all kinds of loud sighing.

The hope is that Star, from ``Sex and the City," will push the material in more original and unexpected directions as the Raders finally settle in small-town Iowa. He certainly has some potential to work with.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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