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The TV Show “24” is Dead to Me

UPDATE at 18:18 EST on 02 FEB 2008: Dirty Harry at LIBERTAS has a much better review of this tragedy than mine: It’s All Over: Liberals Officially Take Over “24”

Saw this summary of the WSJ article on the site LIBERTAS:

Somewhat OT, the WSJ today has a front page story on “24.”


*Media and Fox blame “Bush’s illegal war” for the show’s unpopularity last season.
*Writers including Howard Gordon are hard-core left-wingers with pictures of Bush with fangs and Cheney eating kittens in the Writer’s Room.
*Surnow is basically a figurehead who has no real connection to the show — it’s Howard Gordon’s show.
*Various script ideas had Jack Bauer “apologizing” for his “torture” and undermining the whole show.
*Script ideas were tossed out and now Bauer will “apologize” at the end of the seventh season.

Conclusions: DH is right, liberalism makes even a show that starts out conservative end up highly liberal. “24″ will be a resounding failure because “apologizing” for the hero undermines the whole concept. But hey, the writers will make their point that “Bush=Hitler.”

I then went to the WSJ and found the article and found this to be true. No more “24” for me. My favorite shows are now simply Heroes, Lost and Chuck. These people are truly out of touch if they think that people stopped watching the show, because of the “unpopularity” of the war effort in Iraq. I lost interest in the show, because it was slowly turning more liberal. Hollywood is completely out of touch. Especially since in 2007, the war effort in Iraq was a huge success. Not that anyone would know that from watching the mass media.

Oh, and they really don’t have a clue if they think any conservative is going to put up with the leftist, condescending, Bush-hating nitwit Janeane Garafalo. Brilliant casting, you idiots.

Reinventing ’24’

Jack Bauer’s newest nemesis isn’t a terrorist — it’s public opinion.

February 2, 2008; Page A1

During its first five years on television, the terror-thriller “24” built a huge fan base by creating the first true superhero of the post-Sept. 11 era: special agent Jack Bauer. Ruggedly handsome and righteously defiant, Jack was willing to do anything to defend his country.

That “anything” has always included torture. Jack has snipped off fingers, poisoned associates, shot through kneecaps and faked executions, all in the pursuit of national security.

Against the real-life backdrop of global terrorist attacks, “24” at its peak fulfilled the fantasies of an insecure nation. It became one of the most important franchises for News Corp.‘s Fox Broadcasting Co., with 17 million viewers tuning in some weeks and millions returning to watch on DVD. (News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.)


But those who ride the tide of the times can also get upended by them. As public opinion about the Iraq War turned south, the show’s depiction of torture came to be seen as glorifying the practice in the wake of real-world reports of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques used on detainees.

Ratings dropped by a third over the course of last year’s sixth season. Producers would later experience trouble casting roles, once some of the most desirable in television, because the actors disapproved of the show’s depiction of torture. “The fear and wish-fulfillment the show represented after 9/11 ended up boomeranging against us,” says the show’s head writer, Howard Gordon. “We were suddenly facing a blowback from current events.”

Last spring, Fox executives asked producers to come up with a plan for what to do with their onetime crown jewel. The producers decided to take the radical — and rarely attempted — step of reinventing the show. While some fans complained “24” had grown too formulaic, the producers also grudgingly saw the importance of wrestling the show from its ties to an unpopular conflict.

The result: “24” is nowhere to be found on the TV schedule. For weeks the show’s producers tried to reconcile the show’s premise with the new public mood. Should Jack atone for his sins? Is Jack bad? The script rewrites and philosophical crises left the show so far behind schedule that when the Hollywood writers went on strike in November, Fox had no choice but to delay its premiere date. The show could premiere this summer, next fall or as late as January 2009.

[Howard Gordon]

At the center of it all is 46-year-old Mr. Gordon. The Princeton-educated intellectual and self-described “left-leaning centrist” finds himself in the awkward position of championing a television show he loves without condoning the real-life ideology it is so often associated with. “If anything, Howard is too thoughtful,” says Dana Walden, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television. “His process is so thoughtful that sometimes it’s hard to get a script out of him.”

Events Occur in Real Time

When “24” was first conceived, no one imagined it would court such controversy. In 2000, creators Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow developed the idea of a high-quality television action show in the mold of the “James Bond” or “Die Hard” movies: heart-pounding, if not exactly plausible. The major conceit of the show was that it would take place over a 24-hour period. Each hour-long show would depict an hour in Jack’s life.

Fox introduced the creators to Mr. Gordon, who had enjoyed some success writing and producing for a series of popular television shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The X Files.” In 2000, Fox ordered up 13 episodes.

“Then terrorism arrived at our doorstep,” says Gail Berman, former president of Fox entertainment. The show premiered 25 days after Sept. 11, 2001.

Instantly, “24” became inextricable from the aftermath of the terror attacks. Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, became a stand-in for the Bush administration’s antiterror strategy. Jack’s interrogation techniques and the numerous “ticking time bomb scenarios” he confronts — situations where he must quickly extract critical information from a suspect to deter an imminent threat — were raised during serious discussions of terror and torture on Sunday morning talk shows, in Republican and Democratic presidential debates, on newspaper editorial pages and in the halls of Congress.


At certain moments the show’s ratings have dovetailed with the approval ratings of the president. Both spiked during the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the capture of Saddam Hussein and the 2004 presidential election.

In the winter of 2007 the sixth season of the show premiered to more than 16 million viewers. The season began with Jack emerging from 18 months of captivity and unremitting torture in a Chinese prison.

Around the time that episode aired, the New Yorker ran a story heavily quoting co-creator Mr. Surnow, who referred to himself as a “right-wing nut job” and called the show “patriotic.” Noting that many in the Bush administration were fans, it described Messrs. Surnow and Gordon hobnobbing with the conservative elite. The story also quoted high-ranking members of the U.S. military criticizing the show for leading soldiers to believe that torture, outlawed in 1949 by the Geneva Conventions, is effective and necessary to fight terrorism.

Mr. Gordon says the story was “highly agendized” and emphasizes the show still has broad appeal across party lines. “What really got to them, I think, wasn’t so much stories like mine as the fact that the U.S. military was telling them that what they were airing was unpatriotic,” says Jane Mayer, the article’s author.

But some Fox executives weren’t happy. To them, that story and others helped cement the show’s ties to the increasingly unpopular Bush administration. Mr. Surnow is still involved in “24,” particularly in the shaping of stories and in the edit room. An outspoken conservative, he has sought to distance his public profile from “24”‘s. Mr. Surnow declined to be interviewed.

As President Bush’s approval ratings began to sink so did ratings for season six, which ran from January to May 2007, dropping steadily month by month. Fox notes that viewers were increasingly choosing to watch the show on digital recording devices. But some fans also felt the show was retreading old ground, and that the characters had become flat. Undoubtedly “24” was showing its age, as all TV shows do, but the producers believed the public mood was quickening the decline.

It was a painful time. As allegations surfaced of prisoners being tortured by members of the U.S. military, producers felt themselves on the defensive. Mr. Gordon says he wasn’t prepared for how strong the associations had grown between “24” and the growing political maelstrom.

At one level, the producers felt angry and insulted — that they were being scapegoated by the media and politicians for larger problems they didn’t create. “We think there’s enough nuance in the show and enough complexity introduced into these ideas that we’d gotten a bum rap and we were p— off about it,” says Mr. Gordon, whose youngish appearance, casual attire and dark tan give him the ski-bum look of a Hollywood hot shot. “Even if you look at James Bond, he didn’t follow the rules, he broke the law, he had a license to kill. At a certain level, it was a wish fulfillment. It’s a fantasy, folks.”

Yet at the same time, Mr. Gordon couldn’t completely divorce himself from the concern that what Jack was doing was morally questionable at best. “24 is effectively an ad for torture,” charges David Danzig, director of the Primetime Torture Project, sponsored by the New York-based Human Rights First. “In almost every episode, the good guys use torture. And when they use torture, it almost always works.”

Says Mr. Gordon: “If you’re a sensible person — and someone with some kind of a conscience — you have to worry about this.”

By Any Means Necessary

Come spring, the show’s writers and their Fox bosses began having informal telephone conversations about how to recover for next season. By the May 21 season finale, the audience had dropped to just over 11 million. Fox gave the writers carte blanche to “reimagine” the show. One of the team’s chief considerations was how to address the controversy surrounding Jack’s use of torture. Should Jack be feeling the guilt the media would have him feel?

On May 31, the show’s head writers went in for a meeting at the studio to present their first big idea: sending Jack to Africa. In various incarnations, Jack would begin the season digging ditches, building houses, tending to orphans, providing security for an embassy or escorting around a visiting dignitary. “One of the themes we discussed was penance, that Africa was a place Jack had gone to seek some kind of penance. Some sanctuary too, but also penance for things he’s done in his life,” Mr. Gordon says.

Ms. Walden and Gary Newman, chairmen of 20th Century Fox Television, were receptive but believed it was too much of a departure. “It felt like we were throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” says Ms. Walden. The Africa plot also had several glaring problems, the first of which was that at some point Jack would have to fly back to the U.S. The writers proposed that for the first time ever, “24” would break from its real-time conceit; the show would skip the period when Jack was on his 14-hour flight.

The writers agreed to work on the plot. Just three weeks before they were due to start shooting the first episodes, Messrs. Gordon and Surnow joined fellow head writers Bob Cochran and Manny Coto for a pancake breakfast at an IHOP to talk through the elements of Jack-in-Africa that still weren’t working. Jack was too far away, they felt, both from the immediacy of domestic terror and from the character he had been in prior seasons.

At the same time, the writers felt the plot lacked the freshness and vigor they sought. They went back and forth for hours until Mr. Gordon concluded the premise just wasn’t going to work. “There’s something broken in the DNA of the story,” he recalls saying.

The others agreed and the foursome returned to Chatsworth, Calif., to the refurbished pencil factory where they film “24,” to start over. The writers do most of their writing there in a cigar room, designed to look like a colonial outpost, which they call the “Calcutta Cricket Club.”

Here, the technical crew keeps a billboard with hand-drawn pictures of Vice President Cheney with fangs and one Photoshopped image of President Bush eating a kitten. Mr. Gordon keeps on his desk a copy of his wife’s book, co-written with prominent Hollywood environmental activist Laurie David, about the dangers of global warming. As part of a larger “green” movement within News Corp., “24” is aiming to be the first television show to go carbon neutral next season, limiting energy use and filming public service announcements.

The writers worked almost without interruption for two days, and the pressure began to show. There were shouting matches, not just about the creative substance of the show, but about how the writing process itself was working. But by Sunday afternoon, they had a new idea: Jack is Bad.

It was another significant departure for the show: In the first six seasons, Jack had an unfailing moral compass. In the next few weeks, the group wrote or “broke” scripts for the first two episodes, inventing a female character, an FBI agent, who would hunt Jack down from the dark side and drag him back to the light.

Near the end of the summer, the writers went back to Fox for a meeting with the studio chiefs and executives at the network, including the network’s president, Peter Liguori. It didn’t go well. Fox didn’t believe anyone would buy the premise that “24”‘s hero would go so awry.

The Clock Is Ticking

By now the show was weeks behind schedule. The writers drove out to Mr. Gordon’s house in Pacific Palisades for another marathon session. It was there that inspiration finally struck.

On the evening of July 21, Ms. Walden was driving down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles when she got a call from Mr. Gordon. She pulled to the side of the road and listened as he breathlessly explained the latest vision.

The new season would introduce a female character, someone like Jack but at an earlier point in her career. Jack’s made certain choices and is willing to pay the price, but this character’s soul is still in play. “We decided that Jack is Jack, and these questions [about torture] are more deftly handled through a character who hasn’t been defined yet,” Mr. Gordon says.

The writers decided to scrap the Counter Terrorist Unit, the government agency for which Jack worked for the first six seasons of the show. Instead Jack would go to Washington to address head-on the accusations that his tactics were out of line. He will make his case. He has nothing to apologize for.

“For five years, this was a wish fulfillment show,” Mr. Gordon said. “At the beginning, when everybody’s fear was more acute, people’s tolerance for violence, their own rage, seemed to make Jack’s tactics more acceptable. But in the wake of our own abuses in prosecuting this so-called War on Terror, we feel Jack is getting a bum rap. So instead of selling out the entire show and its history and its legacy and apologizing for it and ultimately invalidating it, we decided to defend it.”

It was as if they were defending the show itself from charges that it was reckless and partisan. Ms. Walden says she accepted it immediately, and other Fox executives followed suit.

“You can take the position that it is basically reflecting what’s going on in the Beltway right now,” said Mr. Liguori. “I could look at it and say basically it’s the show that’s on trial.”

Perhaps it is in Hollywood, where the prevailing mood has been strongly critical of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Producers casting roles for season seven quickly encountered something they never had before. Two actors declined roles due to moral objections. One Muslim actor turned down a job as a terrorist. Another actor, the former “thirtysomething” star Dave Clennon, was threatening to turn down a role as the senator who would interrogate Jack at the hearings. Through a publicist, Mr. Sutherland declined to be interviewed.

In a series of emails with Mr. Gordon, which Mr. Clennon provided to the Journal, the actor and the producer debated the show’s impact. “Perhaps my involvement in the show has created an elaborate system of rationalization, because I would hate to think that I’ve somehow been the midwife to some public acceptance of torture,” Mr. Gordon writes in an email dated Sept. 26. “But I lack conviction that torture is, under any circumstances an unacceptable option. Mostly I lack conviction because I lack the knowledge.”

Mr. Clennon decided to walk away. “At the end of the day, my sense of the show is that it promotes torture and I don’t want to be a part of that,” he says.

At least two actors who openly oppose torture have accepted parts on the show. In season seven, the liberal comedian Janeane Garofalo will play an intelligence agent. In season six, the Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell played Mr. Sutherland’s father on the show.

“I don’t regret doing it,” Mr. Cromwell says. He does add he was troubled, however, by Fox’s position toward criticism of “24,” which he described as “Hey, look, this is a television show. If you want to deal with torture as a reality, deal with the government. They’re the ones doing it. I’m just making a buck.”

In a statement, Fox says it “has never taken a position on the politics of ’24,'” and producers who had commented on the matter “indicated that the show was not a documentary, a manual on interrogation, or a primer on the war on terror; ’24’ is a television show.”

Mr. Gordon acknowledges the weakness of the it’s-just-TV argument but says at the end of the day, his commitment to the show trumps any pulls at his conscience to set the record straight. For Jack to cop to everything he may have done wrong would have him “either suicidal or crazy, and that wasn’t a viable emotional place to put that character,” Mr. Gordon says. “Which isn’t to say he won’t get there, but not at the beginning.”


February 2, 2008 , 3:42PM - Posted by | "24", Liberalism

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