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What (or rather who) killed 24

Filed under: Television — Charlie Summers @ 6:33 pm
The death of Jack Bauer
Unfortunately, in this case I have no one to blame but myself…here Jack is killed attempting to fight off a helicopter filled with bad guys from 24: The Game.

As many of my friends know, I was a great fan of the television series 24, even putting up with much of the nonsense dished out by the writers over the years. But this year, I have to admit, I am rather glad 24 has ended. So let me give a very brief obituary and lay some considerable blame for the death of a once-proud and now embarrassing television program.

I distinctly remember watching the first episode many years ago…I had heard about the “real-time” conceit, and remember thinking that the show would either be very good, or very stupid. I watched the first episode in real-time (something I haven’t always done), and at the 1:00 am stroke realized I was, quite literally, sitting on the edge of my chair. No other television program has, before or since, done that to me. I looked at my wife, and said something intelligent, like, “Wow.”

That first season kept me spell-bound, even while allowing me to realize how the writers worked. This has been consistent over every season, good or bad…come up with an idea to kick-start the season about six episodes long, then flounder along for the next twelve episodes putting up straw men to knock over until finally coming up with the endgame, which would run four or five episodes. I have complained in this space before that it would have made a lot more sense to actually come up with the plot for the entire season before writing the first word, but that seems to have been consistently too much for the writing staff. (Before you say “It’s impossible to come up with an entire day before writing,” let me briefly mention the series of books available at your local bookstore which do exactly that. I’ve only read one, and that was…an ok read while not spectacular, but these books show it actually is possible for even journeyman writers to devise a plot that unfolds within the course of a twenty-four hour day. So why can’t the ridiculously-paid writing staff of 24?)

And that writing staff has evolved, becoming worse over the years. I thought against general opinion that hiring Manny Coto (who’s only critical success was Odyssey 5 and who later went on to hammer the final nails into the coffin of the Star Trek television franchise before officiating at 24’s funeral) was a pretty big mistake. I was absolutely certain that hiring the talentless Brannon “I only have one idea, let’s blow up the Enterprise!” Braga was the dumbest move ever, and this season has proven me to be correct on both counts.

But I don’t blame these two for destroying the series that at one time was the most exciting and consistently-well-written program on the airwaves. The blame for this, in my opinion, falls squarely on the shoulders of Howard Gordon, who apparently hasn’t had a new idea in years, possibly decades.

Why do I say this? Simple…if you own the Season Six DVD set, check out the special feature disc (disc 7, and if you’re going to put it in your computer, watch out for the disc trying to install an unwanted “player” application - I used software to write the disc to a folder on my hard drive before attempting to view just to stay safe), and watch the end of the “Inside the Writer’s Room” featurette. There Gordon says, with a smug self-satisfied smile, “Maybe there’s a mole…” which seems to be the only idea this outfit can come up with. In my imagination, Jack Bauer wipes that smug grin off of his face with a thoughtless backhand…

It was at the end of episode 13 this year, when Dana Walsh was exposed as yet-another-mole in CTU, that I pretty much checked-out of the show. Understand, I have never been a particular fan of Katee Sackhoff, but I had a tremendous amount of sympathy for an actress given one forty-minute episode to try to do a complete one-eighty on her character. It didn’t work at all (we had seen too many intimate moments with Dana for the switch to cold-blooded assassin to be acceptable to any but the most dull-witted), but Ms. Sackhoff did what little she could to remain true to the character shifting like sand beneath her.

Still, the description at the end of that season six special featurette is exactly how the following episodes played out, showing that the real problem, the honest cause of the downfall of a once-great television program, was one unimaginative and over-paid guy who hired a bunch of other unimaginative and over-paid guys. And it’s why I am still struggling through the episodes (hey, I followed Alias down into obscurity, too), but am as I post this three or four weeks behind with no great drive to catch up, and won’t be watching the final two hours this evening - what used to be appointment television is now, “Eh, I’ll get to ‘em eventually…”

And that the film version of the series would not occur in real time pretty much finalized it for me. (Gordon has been quoted as saying, “We’ve done everything we feel we can do with that character in this format.” Clearly everything you can do, anyway…) It’s now time to move on, and to hope that in the years remaining to me before I die someone else will attempt to perform a conceit as brave, foolhardy, and at least initially breathtaking as the unrelenting clockticks of 24. I’ll miss you, Jack, and promise to always remember the good times while forgetting those evil souls who betrayed you…no, no, not the moles or the terrorists, but the “writers” who desperately relied on them instead of coming up with compelling new storylines.

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3 Responses to “What (or rather who) killed 24” »


  1. Frank McGurn Says:

    I have read your thoughts about “24″. Is it premium series on cable? I have never heard of it. Here in Chicagoland we, unhappily have Comcast. Frank McGurn


  3. Charlie Summers Says:

    Frank McGurn Says:

    I have read your thoughts about “24″. Is it premium series on cable? I have never heard of it.

    Nope, it is (or rather, was) a network show. It aired on the FOX network for the past eight years (ok, ok, eight out of the past nine seasons, since one year it got caught-up in the writer’s strike). The program was based on the idea that each hour is an hour in the lives of the characters; as Kiefer Sutherland intoned at the beginning of each season (with the time changing appropriately), “The following takes place between 6:00 am and 7:00 am. Events occur in real time.” Thoughout each episode, the clock would appear to let the viewer know what time it was…while in later years they were almost dismissive of anything approximating “real time,” the first year you could literally set your watch by the minutes (except for the very beginning of the episode and the very end of it, since they needed to “cheat” a few minutes at either end for opening/end credits, etc.). That first year they even had five-second split-screen interstitials showing you where all the main characters were during the commercial. It was one serious commitment to the real-time clock, and like I said had me at the end of the first episode quite literally on the edge of my living room chair, something no television program before or since has accomplished.

    It was, before the writers completely lost whatever talent they had, one helluva television program.


  5. Charlie Summers Says:

    Wow…just wow…

    I still haven’t completed the season, but after finishing episode 21 (12:00 noon to 1:00 pm, and yes, I’ve noticed that only in the first season did they tell time correctly…there is no such thing as 12:00 am or pm) I am even more disappointed. Ignoring the major continuity error (Meredith Reed didn’t take Jack’s call on her cell phone as Chloe and Arlo discuss, but on the office phone, line 3), check out the temporal distortion; at 12:00 noon, Jack is leaving the storefront immediately after killing Dana Walsh. At 12:00:01 pm, yes, one second after Jack walks away, Cole is being brought into the fully-developed crime scene.

    This isn’t the first time they blatantly ignored their own clock, of course - I remember laughing about President Logan’s micro-second lovemaking back in Season 5. But still, everyone knew this was the last season…it would have killed them to stick to the clock and run that scene a few minutes into the 21st episode?

    Depressing to know how right I was about how little Gordon et al really cared about the whole, “Events occur in real time” thing, or about 24 and its fans. If you need any more evidence that these clowns are responsible for a fantastic show’s downfall, here it is.

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