The show was originally commissioned for UPN, but the network later dropped the show and it was picked up instead by USA. The series was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada for its first five seasons. The sixth and last season was billed as "The season that changes everything" and production was moved to Montreal.
The Dead Zone was expected to be renewed for a seventh season, however due to low ratings and high production cost the series was canceled in December 2007, without a proper series finale.
Some rumors spread that Syfy would pick up the series after it was canceled by USA, but it did not happen. Rumors of a made for TV movie have all but faded with time.
Small-town teacher Johnny Smith is involved in a car accident that leaves him comatose for approximately six years. After regaining consciousness, Johnny begins having visions of the past and future triggered by touching items or people; doctors attribute the visions to activity in a previously unused "dead zone" of his brain that is attempting to compensate for the impaired function of the portions injured in the accident. Johnny also learns that his fiancée, Sarah, gave birth to his son in the interim following the accident, but has since married another man.
With the help of Sarah, her husband Walt, and physical therapist Bruce, Johnny begins using his abilities to help solve crimes. However, his attempts to do good are complicated by intermittent visions of apocalyptic events brought about following the future election of congressional candidate Greg Stillson.
Johnny Smith (played by Anthony Michael Hall) — A retired schoolteacher who, as a result of a car accident, has developed psychic abilities. An encounter with a carnival trickster in the first episode (before the car accident) makes it clear Johnny already has some psychic abilities. However, after the coma, their nature changes from intuition to visions, the latter requiring urgent action, even when personally inconvenient, whereas earlier Johnny only uses his ability on a carnival trickster to amuse his fiancée Sarah. Whenever he undergoes one of his visions, Johnny has shown to be capable of manipulating the time localized around the vision, allowing him to stop, slow, reverse, or forward the time relative to himself within the vision, leaving him as the only one aware of his temporal alterations within it and thus allowing him to further examine the details from the past, future, and occasionally the present.
Sarah Bracknell Bannerman (played by Nicole de Boer) — Johnny's former fiancée, and the mother of his son, J.J. Sarah married Walt Bannerman during Johnny's coma, and the two are raising J.J. together. Sarah knew Johnny when they were children, and later taught at the same school as him. Sarah's mother died when she was a teenager, which strained her relationship with her father. At the end of season 5, Sarah was pregnant with Walt's child. At the beginning of season 6, she gives birth to Walt's daughter and names her "Hope."
Sheriff Walt Bannerman (played by Chris Bruno) — The relationship between Johnny and Walt is initially very rocky, as Johnny often feels that Walt stole Sarah from him. However, since then as Johnny displays his powers more and more often in law enforcement situations, Johnny becomes an asset to Walt, and the two become friends. The name Walt Bannerman is a combination of the names George Bannerman and Walt Hazlett; in the novel, George Bannerman was the sheriff, and Walt Hazlett was the man Sarah married. At the beginning of season 6, Walt is killed in a fire at the Faith Heritage Chapel. However, he continued to pop up throughout the season in visions, flashbacks, and even briefly as a ghost.
Bruce Lewis (played by John L. Adams) — A physiotherapist who helps Johnny regain his strength after his coma. Bruce is an open-minded spiritual junkie as a result of a religious upbringing by his pastor father. He is Johnny's best friend and frequently his voice of reason, and may very well be the reason for the divergence in this series when compared to the novel or 1983 movie (Johnny never tried to kill Greg Stillson before the election). An episode in season 2 even featured a vision of an alternate reality where instead of being a physical therapist, Bruce was a reverend who never met Johnny after waking up from his coma. And thus, with the absence of his guidance, this version of Johnny became unstable, deranged, and driven mad by his abilities.
Rev. Gene Purdy (played by David Ogden Stiers) — Another original character in the series, a religious leader and head of a prestigious university and foundations funded by Vera Smith, Johnny's mother. Johnny always speculated that Purdy's interest in Vera was for financial gain; however, his powers allowed him to discover that Purdy had been in love with Vera for more than 35 years. Upon Vera's suicide over the grief of the loss of her son, Purdy covered up the incident and made everyone believe she died of a heart attack, thus preserving her dignity in the public eye. Purdy has long been involved with somewhat shady dealings, but is always in the constant service of God. His devotion sometimes clouds his judgment, and he has even gone as far as to cover up a murder to protect better interests. At the end of the season 6 premiere "Heritage", Purdy leaves Cleaves Mills after being involved in a fire that kills Walt Bannerman and Malcolm Janus at the Faith Heritage Chapel.
Dana Bright (played by Kristen Dalton) — A journalist for the Bangor Daily News. Dana covered much of Johnny's early work, and later became romantically linked with him; she was also in a relationship with Gene Purdy. She left the show for some time, and her absence was not explained until the season 5 episode "Articles of Faith." Because of her coverage of Johnny, Dana was able to move on up to reporting for a Boston television station, choosing her career ambitions above her increasingly complex relationship with Johnny. At the end of that episode when she leaves, it is shown that both harbor, to some degree, feelings for each other.
Greg Stillson (played by Sean Patrick Flanery) — A mentally unstable politician who has taken many illegal steps to secure an election. Upon meeting with Johnny Smith, it became clear that Stillson would become responsible for an apocalyptic event that Johnny has seen in his visions and is trying to prevent. After the death of Malcolm Janus (see below), Johnny's visions of a Stillson-created apocalypse ceased, but after some further revelations, they returned at the end of the season.
Deputy Roscoe (played by Bill Mondy) — A deputy who works for Walt. Roscoe is usually first on the scene and very dependable.
Johnny "J.J." Bannerman (played by Spencer Achtymichuk (season 1-5) and Connor Price (season 6)) — The biological son of Johnny and Sarah. Sarah was pregnant when Johnny had his accident, and she ultimately married Walt, who raised J.J. as his own son. As of the third season, Walt and Sarah have told J.J. that Johnny is his real father, and Johnny has taken on more fatherly duties. In the season six episode "Big Top", Johnny starts to believe that J.J. has inherited his powers, but J.J. appears to be covering up his innate abilities. In the series finale, J.J. has his first actual vision when he sees Armageddon during a scuffle with Greg Stillson.
Malcolm Janus (played by Martin Donovan) — A power-broker who believes that Greg Stillson is "destined for great things." His ultimate goal is to place Stillson in the White House. He also gave Reverend Purdy a global sphere of influence, in return for financial support of Stillson's campaigns. Janus is apparently a member of the Illuminati, as he wears a ring with their symbol. At the beginning of season 6 episode "Heritage", Janus is killed in self-defense by Purdy at the Faith Heritage Chapel.
Christopher Wey (played by Frank Whaley) — A man from the future who has been comatose since 2003. He wakes after the apocalypse to discover that he has a "dead zone" similar to Johnny's, and that he can communicate with the present-day Johnny when both are in contact with the head of his cane. Wey is revealed to be in league with a future Johnny Smith and J.J.
Rebecca Caldwell (played by Sarah Wynter) — A child psychiatrist who met Johnny during his investigation of the murder of her sister Rachel. Rebecca became Johnny's girlfriend, and at one point in time, found out that Greg Stillson may have been responsible for her sister's murder and will be responsible for the upcoming apocalypse. As of the third-season finale, she has purchased a gun in an attempt to assassinate Stillson. Rebecca was stopped by Johnny and discovered that Stillson did not kill Rachel. She left Johnny, seeking to sort things out for herself.
Alex Sinclair (played by Jennifer Finnigan) — A female psychic who discovered her "dead zone" when she was stung by a swarm of bees (presumably "killer bees") as a child and became hyper-allergic to bee stings and products. Alex first appears in the fourth season episode "Double Vision" where she and Johnny track down a sniper together. At the end of the episode, it's clear that she and Johnny have developed feelings for each other, but she decides that she's not ready to pursue the relationship. Alex does later appear in the fourth season Christmas episode "A Very Dead Zone Christmas" where the idea of her and Johnny getting together is further explored.
Anna Turner (played by Cara Buono) — The "sheriff pro tem" of Penobscot County, Anna investigated the final unofficial case of the recently deceased Sheriff Walt Bannerman.
The first season averaged 6.4 million viewers while season four averaged 3.4 million and season six averaged 2.1 million. The series premiere scored 6.4 million viewers, holding the record for highest premiere on USA Network, until bested by The 4400 premiere which drew 7.4 million viewers.
In the pilot episode, "Wheel of Fortune," the music class practices the song "Mr. Sandman." In the same episode, Johnny and Sarah make out in his car to "Sleep Walk", a song by Santo & Johnny, which also featured in the Stephen King movie Sleepwalkers.