It took eight seasons (and one made-for-TV movie) for time to run out for Fox’s venerable and ground-breaking action series 24 which starred Kiefer Sutherland as the tragic anti-hero Jack Bauer.
Each season, the series took one day in the life of the sometimes counter-terrorist agent Bauer and dealt with the ups and downs of a major attack on U.S. soil like clockwork. The real time conceit was the hook, but it was Sutherland and crackerjack storytelling that kept viewers glued to their screens year after year.
With 24 – Season Eight and The Complete Series hitting DVD this week, ASSIGNMENT X recently chatted with executive producer Howard Gordon in an exclusive two part interview about his tenure on the show, Season Eight’s arc and the brief, fleeting notion of actually killing off Jack Bauer.
ASSIGNMENT X: How does it feel now that it’s over and that there’s not going to be another season?
HOWARD GORDON: It’s bizarre and on the other hand, very comforting. I think everyone is really proud from beginning to end. I just talked to [24 creators] Joel Surnow and Bob [Cochran] yesterday. I think for so many people, they’re going to look back at it professionally and personally and be really proud of the work we did from beginning to end. It’s hard to end things well, and they often don’t end well. I’m as proud of the way we ended, as I am the way we began. Obviously it was something that had to happen at some point and to the extent we could, we controlled the way it happened and that’s a good thing.
AX: Did you know going into Season Eight that it was going to be the last season?
GORDON: I think it was both. For me, it was the last season [on my contract]. I didn’t have the hubris to think my not being there would match up with the commercial interests of the network and the studio. At the end, everybody was of the same mind, but for me, I knew it was going to be my last season of 24.
AX: I felt like the season started off strong, lost its way in the middle and concluded with some of the best hours of 24 ever – especially with how crazy Jack Bauer became. Looking at the show from the inside, do you feel the same way?
GORDON: Absolutely. I can tell you, having pitched it to the studio and network early on, they were supportive, but it was something Kiefer and I talked about at the beginning of the season. The markers we knew we were working toward, and maybe that’s what you picked up on, it gets a little soft in the middle, only because it gets hard to tell a taut story for 24 hours. Here we knew we were going to get to this moment and we knew [love interest and former F.B.I. agent] Renee [Walker played by Annie Wersching] was going to be the linchpin for that and we knew Jack was going to come undone. It was only because he could not find a remedy with President Taylor [Cherry Jones]. In a weird way, it made people do things that were inconsistent with their characters or certainly pushing the limits of what was consistent with those characters. President Taylor, Chloe [Mary Lynn Rajskub] and Jack were the principal triumvirate in this last push of episodes. We knew generally this is what we wanted to get to, and didn’t know where it would go, but it all timed out really well. Kiefer was game to do it and go for broke. One of the most emblematic moments, and it was a moment some people had their doubts about, but in the end, it turned out pretty amazing, was that moment when Kiefer donned that armor. It was wild. It really did work as a metaphor, not just as a great cinematic detail, but as a metaphor for this monster that had come out of Kiefer finally and fully blown. We were pretty psyched about it.
AX: The fans really knocked the show for the Dana Walsh [Katee Sackoff] character, viewing that arc as the equivalent to the cougar in Season Two. What do you think happened there?
GORDON: I’m not quite as harsh about it as fans are, but I don’t think it worked like we hoped it would. I think part of it, the show suffered from this “mole” fatigue and she was branded at the beginning and it was hard to overcome. That said, I think there were some great moments with her character and she played it very well.
AX: One of the strongest things about 24 was the ability to reboot the show every year with, at times, a whole new supporting cast. When most new shows have a hard time coming up with one memorable character, 24 did it year after year.
GORDON: I think it was the architecture that Joel and Bob and I established in the first season. Since the show took place in 24 hours, the seasons and what happened between the seasons was always with the hub of Jack Bauer and always an interesting thing. Since the whole season had to take place in one day, six months to a year and half had elapsed in between seasons and the whole world had rebooted around Jack or collided with Jack’s life and so did the people around him. So the structure of it really benefited the real time. It allowed this elation of time between seasons and you’re always playing catch-up which was wonderful. It was the right architecture to have a show with a mixture of regular characters and some of whom entered mid-season or lasted a couple of seasons and then left mid-season the next year. It was almost syncopated, and that kind of imbalance allowed for a fresh feeling. Anything was possible and anyone was expendable and we’re playing it for real. It always made us understand the big beats.
AX: The ending of the series is so perfect and wonderful – did you have that one line “shut it down” in mind before you even wrote that episode and worked backwards or did it take awhile to come to that?
GORDON: As always, with every episode, including the finale, you’re always auditioning moments. When this one came, I planted the flag in it and said “that’s the end. That’s it.” Crazily enough, we had this oversized screen at the center of CTU. We liked the idea of it, better than we did with its execution during the course of the season. The idea of this subterranean CTU was slightly more futuristic than we had ever done before with CTU, with this giant eye in the sky screen. It was an intriguing idea that I don’t think delivered in the season the way we hoped it would. No one was at fault, but what was amazing, was that this final image, again, became this incredible metaphor for the show itself and our experiences with watching Jack and Chloe. It was the right frame within the frame. Once that happened, I knew it, and I knew the last line was “shut it down.” That line came right on the heels of that image. Also, I was vaguely inspired by a conversation I had with [MAD MEN creator] Matt Weiner on the SOPRANOS ending. He was as blown away by that ending as I was. He thought it was a rock and roll ending that David Chase had done by smashing the instrument at the end. In a way, I was a little bit inspired by that. For 24, it was a comment on the medium we had been watching Jack Bauer on and it’s time to shut it off and go to static.
AX: Did you ever entertain the notion of killing Jack Bauer off?
GORDON: Yes, in many ways, I did. I think I maybe even wrote that scene and in the end it felt too depressing. I think it would have been a really depressing moment. I don’t think it would have been surprising, I think it would have been more depressing than surprising. In a strange way, that’s probably the ultimate, tragedy and probably the most politically correct ending, but it wasn’t something anybody wanted to commit to. Not just for the reason of the show, but honestly, if we had really felt that was the best ending, we would have all gone for it.
AX: When you wrote “the death of Jack scene” was it extended from what you already had planned for the current ending?
GORDON: The way it would have been, like any tragedy, the President would intervene. Having stopped her terrible choice to coerce everybody to the Peace table, she would try to save Jack and it would have been too late. Like Romeo and Juliet, it would have been the function of the timing of it.
CLICK HERE for Part 2 of ASSIGNMENT X’s exclusive interview with Howard Gordon as he talks about the status of the 24 movie (it’s on hold) and his first novel GIDEON’S WAR due out January 11, 2011
CLICK HERE for ASSIGNMENT X’s review of 24 – SEASON 8 DVD
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