TRAVELER. Preview at 10:01 tonight, Channel 6. Moves to 10 p.m. Wednesdays on May 30.

IT'S PROBABLY only a matter of time before someone suggests expanding the Patriot Act to cover TV shows.

Particularly TV shows that portray federal agents and officials in a less than glowing light.

On CBS' "Jericho," we learned a few weeks ago that an official of the Department of Homeland Security might be complicit in the nuclear destruction of cities across the United States.

On Fox's "24," where the fictional Counter Terrorism Unit is often locked in pointless political battles with the FBI, the bunkerlike CTU is currently in the hands of terrorists.

On Fox's "Prison Break," federal agents conspired to put an innocent man on Death Row and to kill anyone who found out.

Little wonder then that when a pair of Yale grad-school housemates become unwitting suspects in a terrorist bombing in the premiere of ABC's "Traveler," they decide - quicker than you can say "enemy combatant" - that turning themselves in to the feds isn't an option.

"If we go in now, they will ship us straight to Guantanamo Bay," law school grad Jay Burchell (Matthew Bomer) tells his girlfriend (Pascale Hutton) when she suggests the obvious.

Whether or not that's true, it would certainly shut down "Traveler," which, like so many current serials, requires viewers to buy into the idea that its heroes have no choice but to do very unobvious things.

What's intriguing about "Traveler," though, isn't the overarching conspiracy, which seems to involve an art collection, insurance company and some very wealthy people.

Give me the Dharma Initiative anytime.

It's not even the hint of "Lost"-like father issues.

No, what just might hit home is the way two guys, Jay and his housemate, Tyler Fog ("The O.C.'s" Logan Marshal-Green), react when they discover that someone they thought they knew well might have been someone else altogether.

That someone is Will Traveler (Aaron Stanford), a third housemate with a passion for Jack Kerouac who drags his buddies on a cross-country road trip that ends abruptly at the first stop, when the New York City museum he's led them to is blown up.

At which point they discover that he's removed traces of his existence not only from their hotel room but from their lives.

"How do you live with someone for two years and not have a single picture of them?" asks a frustrated Jay after discovering Will's been quite the artful dodger when it comes to cameras.

That's some feat in the age of Facebook, but is what's happening to Jay and Tyler any stranger than what happened to that senator's wife last fall in Fox's long since vanished "Vanished"?

Or to those other cross-country road-trippers on Fox's even shorter-lived "Drive"?

Or to those alien-plagued Floridians on the ABC-canceled "Invasion"?

I don't know what network conspiracy's kept "Traveler" off the air since it was announced by ABC a year ago as a "midseason" series. Tonight's episode, following "Grey's Anatomy," is meant to whet appetites for its May 30 debut in the "Lost" time slot. That's not midseason, it's postseason.

It's possible those in paranoia withdrawal might welcome a bit of summer plot-twisting - and fed-bashing - but I wouldn't blame anyone who refused to sign on for yet another confusing road trip that might not go the distance. *

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