"Eureka!"

That's what TV network entertainment execs were shouting the night of May 17, 2000, when NBC aired the season finale of "The West Wing," in which America's beloved President Bartlet was fired upon by a group of ruthless white supremacists in a hellacious hail of bullets, screams and flying bodies.

Those execs had just seen the germ of the Practically Perfect Television Program.

The Practically Perfect Television Program contains very graphic, grand-scale mayhem, which never fails to attract young male viewers who are television's most elusive audience and therefore the group advertisers are most anxious to reach. And because the ultra-violence is either perpetrated by or carried out against evil terrorists by flag-waving feds, these shows are hard for Washington, D.C., to criticize, no matter how violent.

The fall schedule includes three such series, all CIA dramas: Fox's "24," ABC's "Alias" and CBS's "The Agency."

CIA dramas were this TV season's Next Big Thing. Much the way reality programming was the Next Big Thing last season.

But when 19 terrorists took over four passenger jets and slammed three of them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing at least 6,000 people 12 days ago, it looked as if these three series would instead become the season's Really Big Programming Disaster. CBS, for instance, decided to yank the pilot episode of "The Agency" just days before it was set to air, because the story line about a terrorist attempt to blow up Harrods department store was deemed inappropriate after the events of Sept. 11. Another episode was reworked and will air as the series' debut, and what was to have been the pilot will air later in the season, as will an episode in which a terrorist plot involves the use of anthrax.

Upon reflection, however, network executives began to hope that these shows were a case of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Remember, World War II movies were very popular during World War II.

Here's what they're selling:

ABC's campy "Alias" is from J.J. Abrams, whose best TV work to date is "Felicity" before The Haircut. To picture "Alias," think "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" meets "Mission: Impossible." It stars total babe Jennifer Garner, who spends part of her time as a perky college graduate student, part of her time jogging in tight workout clothes and the rest of the time as a CIA agent. In the pilot episode, she dyes her hair an awful shade of red but still manages to look fabulous, punches and kicks hordes of foreign terrorists while trying to nab some horrible instrument of world destruction on which the bad guys have got their nasty mitts, is tortured by the overseas meanies, kicks and punches them some more and blows up their lab -- that's the pyrotechnic part.

ABC execs threw all their weight behind this one, giving it their cushiest open time slot on Sunday night -- when more people are at home watching TV than any other night of the week -- in between their movie block and "The Practice."

They've also spent a fortune's worth of their own on-air time running snazzy promos for the show, and arranged for Nokia to sponsor the premiere, which will air without commercial interruption. You will see a lot of Nokia phones used in that episode but hey, that's a small price to pay for no commercial interruptions, right?

Fox's "24" is the season's most buzzed-about series among reporters who cover television. It stars Kiefer Sutherland, who has finally lost his baby fat and transformed himself from Julia Roberts's First Big Celebrity Ex into a TV star. Sutherland plays the head of an elite team of CIA agents who have exactly one day -- 24 hours, get it? -- to uncover a plot by foreign terrorists to assassinate the first African American presidential candidate.

The pyrotechnic extravaganza in this show's pilot episode includes a scene in which one of the terrorists blasts out of and then explodes a passenger plane, which in the wake of recent events was giving Fox executives pause. But "24" isn't scheduled to debut until Oct. 30, when viewers may not be so sensitive about seeing that scene as they obviously would be now.

Fox is taking a big risk with this series, which unfolds in "real time." That is, each hour-long episode will cover one hour in this one day over the course of the entire season. Nonetheless, the network has given "24" a plum slot on Tuesday nights, following its successful comedy hour.

CBS's "The Agency" is from action-flick director Wolfgang Petersen ("In the Line of Fire," "The Perfect Storm") and stars Gil Bellows, who's looking much better now than in his final days on "Ally McBeal," for reasons we can only imagine. Anyway, Bellows plays CIA undercover operative Matt Callan. In what was to have been the opening episode, an impeccably dressed Bellows works the Washington cocktail party circuit hard to recruit a Middle Eastern diplomat who knows where a planned terrorist bombing will take place. The plot line worried CBS executives enough that last week they announced it had been yanked and they were rushing to re-edit a later episode with which to unveil the series this Thursday.

You can tell the guys of CBS are high on "The Agency" because they've given it the best time slot in all of prime time -- Thursday night, after "Survivor" and "CSI."

But Practically Perfect Television Programs aren't the only exciting developments this fall.

Over at CBS, for instance, someone is in the midst of a serious midlife crisis. We know this because the network bought no fewer than three series about middle-aged men in midlife meltdown. "Citizen Baines" stars James Cromwell as a prominent senator who has just lost his bid for a fourth term and returns to his home in Seattle to figure out what to do next, while his three adult daughters do their best to make sure that whatever it is, he's miserable while doing it.

"Danny," which used to be called "American Wreck" until it occurred to someone at CBS that cynical TV critics would have a field day with that title, stars Daniel Stern as a recently separated father of two who supposedly runs a local community center but mostly plays basketball there.

And "The Education of Max Bickford" stars Richard Dreyfuss as a college professor who is passed over for a long-overdue promotion, which is instead given to a former student with whom he had an affair -- and serves him right. Adding to his woes, his best friend, Steve, has returned from sabbatical and now he's going by the name Erica. Gee, that's tough.

Over at NBC, execs are working hard to transform their network from the place to go for smart, urban, young-adult sitcoms -- they're down to eight on the fall schedule -- to the Almost Dick Wolf Network. Wolf will have three hours of "Law & Order" series on the fall schedule. All of NBC's sitcoms put together equal only four hours.

Fox, which until recently couldn't develop a sitcom that wasn't drawn, finds itself with 12 comedies on its prime-time slate -- the most of any network. Did you know that the network with the most sitcoms is usually the No. 1 network among young adults and sometimes among viewers overall?

ABC, which spent much of the past two seasons in a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"-induced stupor, is finally waking up and realizing it's got to get serious about developing some scripted series and fast, because "Millionaire" is aging faster than that portrait in Regis Philbin's attic. Unfortunately, ABC suits have been dozing so long they didn't notice that CBS and Fox had used up the quota of sitcoms about fat slobs married to gorgeous women and put "According to Jim" on their schedule. It stars Jim Belushi, who ought never be allowed to appear onscreen without a shirt, who's married to Courtney Thorne-Smith. Bet she really misses Gil Bellows now. Also when they awoke from their two-year nap, ABC suits had completely forgotten that they already ran "Moonlighting" in the '80s, and so they went and put "Thieves" on their schedule, starring John Stamos as Bruce Willis and some gorgeous Australian actress named Melissa George as Cybill Shepherd.

WB execs will continue pretending not to see the humor in their insisting that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," now gone to UPN, was getting too old for their prime-time schedule anyway, while adding Reba McEntire, Bob Saget, Julia Sweeney, Fred Willard and even Ellen Albertini Dow to that same schedule.

And UPN? Sure, it's got "Buffy," and a new "Star Trek" series, and "WWF SmackDown!," which is still performing, though on a downward slide. But you know that old question: If a show is a ratings success but there are no executives around at the network to gloat over the numbers, did the success actually happen? UPN programming chief Tom Nunan took a hike a few months ago, and just this month, the network's president and CEO, Dean Valentine, filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against his bosses, which surely means he doesn't expect to be there much longer.

Kiefer Sutherland, with Sarah Lively, plays the head of an elite team of CIA agents racing to halt an assassination plot in Fox's "24."Gil Bellows, left, as a CIA undercover operative in CBS's "The Agency." The series also features Ronny Cox, Gloria Reuben and David Clennon.Melissa George and John Stamos in the "Moonlighting"-like "Thieves" on ABC.