If 24 Ends…

The show was a big advance in the well-known art of washed-up movie stars re-inventing themselves for TV

You might have already heard that, as expected, it looks like Fox probably won’t pick up 24 for another season. The Fox studio (as opposed to the Fox network) is going to shop it around. NBC executives have already said that they won’t rule out the possibility of a pickup, but of course that would depend on how successful or unsuccessful they are in developing new dramas to re-populate the 10 o’clock slot. (24 is a 9 o’clock show on Fox because that network stops broadcasting after 9:59. On any other network, its level of violence and intensity would make it a 10 o’clocker.) Its future is certainly looking doubtful, and its cultural moment has passed.

Though I doubt if the political readings of 24, or its popularity with conservative Supreme Court justices who appear unaware that Jack Bauer is not real, have contributed much to its downfall. The brilliance of 24 was that although it was a political show, it was set up in such a way as to confirm the political beliefs of almost anyone who was watching. It’s sort of a mash-up of a “conservative” genre, the rugged-he-man-who-gets-results genre (think Dirty Harry) with the “liberal” conspiracy thriller genre, where the higher-ups are always lying about war and national security issues. It was identified a bit with its “conservative” side in recent years because of the the debates about torture, and about co-creator Joel Surnow’s politics. But I think its real problem is simply that it’s been on since 2001 and it’s done virtually every season-long story it can do.

(One thing I’d like to see them try, which they sort of made a stab at last year but abandoned, is to put Jack into a Mission: Impossible scenario where he spends the entire season causing mischief in some other country. But given that they will have to cut the budget, not increase it, if they want to stay on the air in some form, this probably isn’t feasible. If there’s another season, he’ll probably be in L.A. all year.)

24 also was a big advance in the well-known art of washed-up movie stars re-inventing themselves for TV. This is as old as TV itself; Lucille Ball went into radio and then TV because her movie career didn’t go as well as expected. But Sutherland is one of the best examples of how someone can hang around the movie business for years, making lots of movies (many of them in the lead) without ever becoming particularly famous or impressive, and then turn into a superstar by landing the right TV role.

Finally, don’t forget the unaired 1994 pilot.

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