Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
You thought 24 was over? Clearly, you don’t know Jack.
Kiefer Sutherland returns Monday to the role that won him an Emmy Award, as Jack Bauer stages a comeback in 24: Live Another Day. Fox announced the revival of the real-time thriller last year, a decision that came as a welcome surprise for fans who felt the legendary counter-terrorist expert’s story was far from over. It turns out, the writers and producers of 24 felt the same way.
“There was a feeling among all of us that when Season 8 finished and we were tired and afraid to move on, we all felt that there was more to this story, that Jack Bauer wasn’t quite ready to shuffle off the stage,” executive producer Manny Coto said during a recent conference call with reporters. “There was talk of a movie … we all agreed that there would be more.”
When the opportunity of Live Another Day presented itself, Coto and his fellow 24 masterminds were overcome with “a reservoir of ideas and thoughts about this character, and where he would be now, that we were able to draw on.”
“Particularly exciting is that he’s a fugitive and on the run from his own government,” he said. “He’s a man who saved the United States multiple times, and now he has that same country turn its back on him. That’s a fantastic dynamic to start a series, and something we seized on. It really energized us.”
It also energized Sutherland, a vocal advocate for a 24 feature film once the series went off the air. Instead, Bauer lives again on the small screen, albeit in a truncated capacity. Rather than sticking with the proven formula of 24 episodes per season, representing 24 hours in a single day, Live Another Day will only offer 12 episodes. However, in the spirit of old-school 24, those episodes will chronicle a single very bad day in Bauer’s life, skipping hours here and there.
“The 12 hours allows us to really condense the storytelling,” Coto said. “In a 24-hour season, we kind of knew how many episodes we had to fill and where we had to go. Very often in a season we would stretch out plots as much as they could go to fill out the vast [episode order]. Here, we find ourselves really compressing the action. We’re very often a little short of the runway as far as finishing the plots coming up to the end of the season. It’s very challenging. It’s an accelerated form of storytelling this season.”
There’s another reason to tell a shortened version of 24, according to executive producer Evan Katz: “People’s viewing habits have changed. Asking people to devote 24 consecutive weeks to a highly serialized show is a bigger ask than it was 10 years ago,” he said. “In this case, it’s more inviting. I also think it’s more special. It’s not going to happen all the time. It’s not taking place over years. It’s a chunk of time and it gives the network an opportunity to put more oomph behind its launch.”
The events of Live Another Day take place four years after the Season 8 finale, which saw Bauer on the run from justice after a killing spree that claimed the lives of many high-profile targets, including Russian diplomats.
“When we approached this season, we wanted to do something special and different, that would surprise fans,” Coto said. “We had to take into account that four years have passed and our characters have changed radically. At the end of Season 8 Jack was sent into exile for crimes he committed against the state and the Russians. The person who helped Jack go into exile was Chloe O’Brian.”
Indeed, Chloe joins Bauer as a fugitive from American authorities. When she shows up in Live Another Day, it’s under very different circumstances than fans are used to seeing from Mary Lynn Rajskub’s character, typically a source of comic relief.
“The very last scene of the series was Chloe turning off the satellite that let Jack get away. We had to go with that. We couldn’t ignore that,” Coto said. “So Chloe was investigated and charged and herself became a fugitive. Chloe, who lives her life behind a keyboard, took up arms against the government in her way. She became embittered and suffered her own personal thrashing. Things will be revealed as far as what she’s been through. We get the dramatic reward of seeing them possibly come together again and possibly reawaken their old selves.”
Bauer and Chloe’s legal status necessitated the series’ shift to a new location: London. It’s not the first time 24 has visited foreign soil; portions of Season 3 saw Jack operating in Mexico, while the TV movie 24: Redemption took place in the fictional African country of Sangala. But Live Another Day represents the greatest commitment 24 has ever made to telling an international story.
“Of all of our challenges this year, London has been a shining star,” Katz said. “That hasn’t been a challenge.”
Even if the setting isn’t challenging, Bauer has his fair share of obstacles to contend with — including a London-based branch of the CIA that’s been tracking Jack for some time. In particular, Bauer is at odds with an agent named Kate Morgan, played by Yvonne Strahovski.
“We really liked the idea, very early on, of bringing in a female point-of-view character,” Katz said. “At least the first month or so of talking about the series was largely focusing on who this woman would be and what her back story would be. We wanted to make sure she had a wound — some kind of wound that pursuing Jack Bauer might potentially heal. We wanted to make sure there was the potential for her to be able to relate to Jack in terms of personal tragedies they’ve experienced.”
For Jack, Morgan and the CIA are small fish, obnoxiously swimming in the way of his great white whale: a group of terrorists with the ability to hijack American drones.
“We featured a drone in [Season 6], but at the time, they were smaller and flimsier and didn’t seem particularly menacing,” Coto said. “Now, the drones in reality and in operation, and the ones on the drawing board, are large and menacing things from the sky that can blow up entire buildings. We wanted the show to have a flavor of its old self, but also to take into account the changes that have gone on [in the real world].”
Complicating matters further is the terrorists’ target: James Heller, formerly the Secretary of Defense, now President of the United States. Heller, along with his daughter (and Jack’s former flame) Audrey, are in London to negotiate a treaty. Along with Sutherland as Jack and Rajskub as Chloe, William Devane’s Heller and Kim Raver’s Audrey are the only two returning actors from the original 24 series that have been announced.
“We wanted to do something interesting with [Devane’s] character that we won’t reveal; he’s the President, but there’s another issue he’s dealing with,”Katz teased. “For Kim Raver, the last time we saw Audrey, she was catatonic. We chatted with her about what she’d been through.”
After four years on the run, Bauer emerges to prevent terrorists from assassinating a man who isn’t just the President, but someone who served as a father figure to Jack for many years — and the father of the woman he loves. It represents a shade of the old Jack, the hero who would risk anything and everything to protect his country and his loved ones. But is it just a shade? After everything he’s done and everything he’s been through, can Jack ever truly go back?
“That’s part of what this season is about: can Jack return to what he was? That question is definitely up in the air,” Coto said. “This is a man who wasn’t just exiled. Something has happened to him over these four years. There’s a mystery of what he was up to. Did Jack go through a period where he was not a hero? Where he turned, for lack of a better phrase, to turn to the dark side? We don’t know. We know, but you don’t know! It’s an interesting mystery as far as the season goes. That’s one of the themes we’re working on: Can Jack possibly return to this world?”
No matter the answer, expect some resolution to that question by the time Live Another Day ends — because the way the producers see it, this limited series could very well be the grand 24 finale.
“We’re treating this season as a one-time miniseries,” Coto said. “It has a beginning, middle and an end. The ending could be the end of 24 for good, if you look at it that way — depends on how you look at it. It’s possible, certainly. Obviously it’ll depend on eyeballs and people tuning in. But one thing to keep in mind is that we all came back to tell this one last story, one last day in Jack Bauer’s life. If there’s more beyond that, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
24: Live Another Day airs its two-hour premiere Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.