Sunday, February 3, 2008

24 – On Life Support?

The Wall Street Journal has a front page article on this weekend’s paper which seems to spell gloom and doom for the show “24”. A big part of the problem was the show's liberal use of terrorism and torture in previous episodes of 24, specifically at the hands of Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland), and the public's distaste for torture being used in real life situations.

The Wall Street Journal said:

“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.”

The Journal also reports various problems the writers experienced as they tried to deal with disassociating Jack from the heavy handed torture persona. At one point, they had Jack in Africa doing what amounts to penance work. About this, the Journal 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." ‘

The bottom line is that the show’s season premier date is questionable, with the Journal indicating it could me this summer, next fall, or January 2009. (Translation: No one has a clue.) In my opinion, this does not bode well for the show.

I have been a 24 watcher since day 1. I like the show, but I too have had issues with the overuse of torture and violence. Sometimes it seemed over the top, and done just for the shock value. I am hoping that Jack comes back in some sort of re-invented way, but I hope that they don’t make the show so tame that the excitement is gone. I am sure this is the issue with which the writers struggle. They are lucky they’ve had more than 24 hours to think about it. So have the fans.

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