Three hours left: Show runner Howard Gordon talks about 24

So what can you do when everybody else over by the water cooler is talking about Lost? You do what you have to do. First you use the wrench. Then the blowtorch. Then the knife. And, of course, that doesn't work because . . . because torture  . . . doesn't work! But how else to get the information? His cell phone - the chip, the thing, the whatever you call it with all the information - the SIM card! Of course of course! A horse is a horse, you piece of shit! The SIM card's not in the phone so it's either up his ass or he swallowed it. And you can't crawl up someone's asshole on network television, which means . . . Abdominal exploratory surgery for that MF. He's got it coming because of what he did to Renee - and a lot of other people, too, and potentially the entire "free world," but most of all Renee. He needs killing, and we need that SIM card.

Thus Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) disembowels (is that what you call it when you cut open someone's abdomen and reach inside his stomach looking for a computer card?) Russian operative Pavel (Joel Bissonnette). How does Jack even know where the stomach is? You kidding me? You think Jack hasn't seen people with their guts blown out? He knows something about anatomy those pussies on Lost don't.

So, three hours left to the final season of 24 (Mondays at 9 pm on FOX): Monday the 17th and then a two-hour slam-bang finale on the 24th. Last Friday, following  hour 22, executive producer and "show runner" Howard Gordon held a conference call press conference in which 17 press people - representing everyone from the Herald and the Phoenix to the LA Times, TV Guide, and Fantast - got to ask one question each.

The skinny? Howard Gordon is a genius. Well, what do you think? He's been with 24 since the beginning (with a brief sabbatical). Here's what Gordon had to say about story arcs, plot implausibilities, and the pending 24 movie.

--Jon Garelick





Lisa Steinberg (Starry Constellation): There is a huge online and Twitter fan base of this show that has been upset about the death of Annie Wersching's character, Renee. Was there another choice you had been pondering, or was killing the character off the idea from the beginning?

Howard Gordon: Actually, typically we come upon these things as more improvisations, but this was one that we had come up with at the very beginning of the season and stuck with for reasons that I think everybody is seeing right now, which is obviously motivating Jack to this very final, climactic confrontation and taking him to a place he has never been before. I have to say that I'm taking people's outrage as a measure of interest, and their indifference would have been far more hurtful than their outrage. But we have a history of doing that. I remember when that happened with Edgar; we got a fair bit of angry email. But yes, this is something that we've thought about and thought about very carefully, and hopefully did it well. I hope.


Mike Hughes (TV America): I was wondering if the decision that this would be the last season came early enough that you could do any adjustments in the show, or is this just plain the way you were going to end this no matter what?

H. Gordon: It's a good question, and it was one that the network asked as well. To me, the show was always going to end the way it was going to end, whether there was a ninth season or whether there was a movie because the story has been told. What I think changed, though, was the context of it all. In other words, it really took on a different meaning. I've said this in the past that I think any number of seasons in years past - season four, season five, I think even last year - could have been a really, really cool series finale. Only the fact that this was our series finale did it really have the kind of context that, wow, we're really saying goodbye to this character. And there is a final moment that is very, very specific to the series finale. It's not so much a plot moment, but it's a punctuation mark that I think is unique to the series finale. But the answer is really no. We told the story the way it was going to be told and would have no matter what.


Amy Amatangelo (Boston Herald): I know you probably can't tell us a lot, but is there any hint you can give about what people might expect in the season and now what will be the series finale? And just a little bit about maybe where you want to leave Jack. I know you said that you had it kind of set out for you in advance where you were going to end the season, but was there an emotional place you wanted to leave Jack as you wrapped up the show?

H. Gordon: It's a great question. Where we wanted to leave Jack was something - we tried on a couple of very different endings for size and the one we came to at the end is the one that felt just right. So it was not for lack of trying a couple of different ways. But we knew it when we saw it, that this was the right way to do it.

One thing we tried and didn't work was "happily ever after" for Jack. What he has done -- forget about the last eight seasons, but in these last six episodes, or what he'll have done in the last six episodes which you've not seen yet -- leaves him once again in a very compromised place morally and ethically and emotionally. This show is a tragedy, and so to give Jack a happy ending just didn't feel authentic. We gave him a happy beginning, and I really am very pleased with the way we started and, of course, gave him something to care about with Annie Wersching ("Renee Walker") and his own family. And of course, circumstances and the story dictated a kind of very complex confrontation.

And going out to where the end and what we can expect is the things that were aligning, which were basically Chloe versus Jack versus President Taylor -- we're taking all these characters to places that we've never seen them before. We knew it constituted a risk and one that was frankly challenging to write and, among the actors, pretty challenging to play. But it was one really we think was worth taking, and I think it pays off really well in the end. But in the spirit of trying to take the series to a place where it hasn't been before, we've done this thing. It's certainly not playing it safe, but it is very emotionally climactic and, we think, we're pretty excited by it.


Rodney Ho (Atlanta Journal Constitution): Howard, a lot of fans absolutely hated the whole Dana Walsh character and subplot. I wanted to sort of get your defense of how that whole thing played out.

H. Gordon: Yes. Man, every season there is something that people seem to fixate on. You know, I got it, and I guess all I kept telling people was to please wait until the story had been told before you commented. To me, I think episode 20 answered that question. I was really, really proud of that episode, and what I liked about it, too, was that for the first time, this very complex and admittedly very ... confused and crazy character, this onion of a character, got peeled down to the nub and you finally really understand -- a little bit, anyway -- who she is. Now of course she is a sociopath, and of course it's kind of an insane story. But to have seen in that moment that she actually really cared about Cole, that she really had done this all to get out of a situation she got herself into.

Look, it's crazy. There is a girl from Rock Springs who somehow manages to get in to CTU as an analyst under an alias; it's crazy. And the fact that it was the Russians, that the Russians had sponsored her and put her in there made it make some sense. And I think it was a pretty wild roller coaster of a character which Katee pulled off, I think, beautifully. What I liked about it was that what felt unnatural or felt weird and maybe what didn't resonate with people at the beginning was that very part, that she wasn't authentic, that she was this counterfeit personality in the midst of our heroes.

I'm happy with the way it resolved. I really haven't gone online and seen how people reacted or whether they are even more pissed off, I don't know. But I think in the end, she acquitted herself pretty well, and I think the story turned out to be pretty interesting.


Joe Flint (LA Times): I must confess to being one of the Dana Walsh haters.

H. Gordon: You're not alone, man.

J. Flint: That's a slight question in jest, but I am curious: Anyone going to find Stephen Root's body in that closet?

H. Gordon: They will, in the 25th hour. We actually had written a couple of discoveries and it really just messed up our story telling so I put it in the ... files where things that we can speculate happened after the 24-hour frame. And fortunately, the body wouldn't start smelling until the 25th hour.

J. Flint: Well, that's what I'm wondering because it's kind of hot; it's May in New York. Sooner or later, somebody is going to wonder "What the hell?"

H. Gordon: Well, according to my forensic manual, the stench doesn't really begin until hour six, and he died at the end of 13, so we should be okay.

J. Flint: Let me ask you really quick a semi-serious question. There was, about a month or two months ago on the business side, some talk of whether the show might be shopped elsewhere. Was there ever really anything to that? Would that have been something you wanted to do?

H. Gordon: You know, it wasn't something I wanted to do. It was something that I was willing to entertain as a loyal Fox employee and help Fox find new personnel to run the show, and maybe even recruit some of the guys who had been with me. But it was something that I think we all felt, when we really looked at each other, Kiefer included, was really that we were telling our final season. We kind of knew it at the beginning of the year, and we always kept the door open. I really believe that Fox, that Gary and Dana, may have had different conversations that didn't share entirely the same concerns that we had in terms of we've really come to the creative conclusion of the story and we want to end as close to the top as we can. But we did have some real conversations. And Gary certainly insinuated me into them. But when we really, really sat down and considered it, it was something that just never caught fire.


Kevin Sullivan (TV Guide): What is the current status of the movie?

H. Gordon: The current status of the movie is that Billy Ray has written a draft which Kiefer has read, and we're all working together on the second draft. Now, it's not been shared with Fox or anybody, so there is no official status right now. It's very much a work in progress. Honestly, the movie division is on the other side of the lot, and I don't know and can't measure their intentions or their timing -- and certainly can't measure their reaction to the script because they haven't read it yet. So I think it's all very much speculative at this point.

I think our preference would be to do it sooner than later, of course, and get Jack back out in front of people within a year or two, but I don't know. That would be just me speaking.


Walt Belcher (Tampa Tribune): I guess you're taking Jack to a place he's never been, but he's been pretty far down already in past episodes.

H. Gordon: Yes, it's true, it's true. Although I'm trying to think if it's ever been quite like this. Yes, it's a color we've seen before, but this time we're kind of pressing our bet. As you'll see in the next couple episodes, we're all in.

W. Belcher: Can he get so low he can't come back? Can he come back?

H. Gordon: That's a great question; that was really the question we asked ourselves and certainly the studio asked us. The answer is no. The good part about Jack's character -- and I really believe what has been a good part of the show -- is we never press reset. In other words, Jack is a character, and you feel the accumulated scars of his experience and the weight of his actions for eight years. Jack has never been able to sort of snap back, even when he is happy, even with Audrey in season five when we introduced Audrey. It wasn't like that didn't discount all the tragedy that had preceded it. Like in the beginning of this year, Jack allowed himself a moment of joy or possibility of human contact with his own daughter and her husband and his granddaughter, it doesn't discount what has happened before.

So I don't think Jack is ever going to recover from what has gone on. It just adds to the weight and the complexity and to the darkness of his character. The character has never gone happily-ever-after; that's just not in his wheelhouse. The show is ultimately a tragedy, and you have to really play that and you have to honor that.


Derrick Moore ( I was just going to ask: when you cast Katee Sackhoff, what exactly in her past body of work did you see as potential for this character and how you want to develop it?

H. Gordon: Honestly, when we cast her, we were just all fans of hers; all the writers were just fans of her from Battlestar. We sat down with her and met her and just liked her as a person. We knew that this was a character with a past, and we knew that this was a really interesting actor. But in all honesty, we weren't sure where the character was going to go, and we just were sort of willing to proceed in good faith that we'd find something. And I have to say, look, it was a challenging part. It really, really was a challenging part, and Katee was just completely game for everything we threw at her. And again, particularly in episode 20, I think that was her greatest moment. I really, really think that that was a phenomenal and nuanced performance that she gave.


Rick Porter (Zap 2 It): I had another movie-related question. I'm curious. In crafting that story, is it sort of just a continuation of what we've seen in the past eight seasons? Obviously, I would think you would want people who hadn't watched all eight seasons of 24 to be able to come into the theater and get a sense of what is going on.

H. Gordon: Right. I've talked about this with Kiefer and with Billy Ray, and we're all trying to get in synch in terms of what we all believe is required. There are two sets of requirements, which is honoring the series and the creative integrity of the character, and also potentially bringing in a whole new group of people into the franchise who can then go back and watch and believe it's been consistent. So I think we recognize that we're serving two masters or two audiences here, not that they are mutually exclusive but there are two requirements. That is definitely an ongoing question.

What I really think is important that we do is not retread - make sure that like every series, every season, that we're moving forward with this character and that he is in a place when we begin that is a different place than he's been before, and I think we all recognize the need to do that and to find that space. That's what we're figuring out. I hope I answered your question.


Tom Jicha (Sun Sentinel): One of the things you have to do with the movie, of course, is abandon the basic conceit that it's going to be hour by hour -- you're not going to keep people in the theater 24 hours. There had to be a point where you said the people who love the show, they really don't care, so you can do things like have Jack move around a big city in a matter of three or four minutes and be stabbed and shot every hour. Wasn't there a point where you said "Look, our fans, they go with us on this and we don't have to worry about that this just could never happen"?

H. Gordon: You're talking about in terms of the real time part of it?

T. Jicha: Yes, the real time. And then obviously you've got to ... after the movie.

H. Gordon: Yes, to me the movie really, really was the epiphany - the reason to do the movie is really Jack is just a great character, and take the real-time conceit out of the equation for now, which is a huge, huge part of the show, I understand. But I think Jack Bauer the character has got sufficiently broad and strong shoulders to carry a movie in this genre. I think as far as the contracts we've bought with our audience, one of the sayings that Joe and Bob and I said at the very beginning was, "Not good, never boring." We really, really required a lot of latitude from our fans, and I think our side of the contract was to keep it interesting and keep it exciting. Even when these moments felt somewhat preposterous or strained, hopefully they were always interesting, even if you wanted to sort of yell at the TV. As long as they're yelling, we're happy.


Matt Mitovich (Fancast): I was wondering, this season, what moment are you most proud of, most satisfied with? And conversely, is there anything you wish you had done differently but you just couldn't because of time, resources, or budget?

H. Gordon: You know, it is interesting. I'll start with the first question. The moment I'm most proud of, frankly, is the very last one, which obviously you haven't seen yet. But you'll see it, and when you see it, I really think we found - it has kind of obsessed me for awhile, what is going to be the last image. What's the last second on a real-time show, I think, maybe has a little more weight than any other moment of any other season finale. So for me, that was really something I was very, very happy with.

Otherwise, I think we had some phenomenally exciting moments. My first really exciting moment was when Renee took off Ziya's thumb. I loved that moment, the way she played it. It was just a beautiful, beautiful performance and one that was not necessarily in the script; the way she sort of sexualized the character was a great moment. I loved Hassan's death; I thought that was really moving and surprising and sad. I'd say those are my two favorite moments except for the last one.

As far as regrets, I have remarkably few regrets, or none. I'd say the only thing was that the budget was rolled back a bit this year, as it was across the board for all Fox shows. We've gotten to be a very expensive show, so I don't know that you would - hopefully, it was invisible to the audience, but we didn't have what in years past was a real ability to reshoot or to enhance some of the production. So we had to do a little bit of belt-tightening.


Bill Harris (Sun Media): When you look back at the legacy of this show, I know that everybody is going to remember the innovative concept. I'm just curious, are you happy with that being the legacy of the show, or would you prefer it to be something else?

H. Gordon: I think you're right. One of the legacies of the show, and perhaps the most important one, is the revolutionary concept. But I think the legacy of the show is also -- having been here from the beginning -- is the fact that we just never let go of the reins and truly never let down our guard. I'm just proud of the effort that everybody put into the show from our end creating the show, and I think the audience stayed with us by and large, and I think that is a measure of the fact that we kept the story interesting to us to create it, and I think consequently, it was interesting to write it.

The legacy of the show, too, we certainly seemed to have an interesting dance with the culture and with our society and with the world after 9/11. So I think we very much were part of the first decade of this century; we played a role in it somehow, and I think that legacy is a significant one as well. But hopefully we just put on a really good TV show that people will continue to watch on DVD and in reruns.


Eric Deggans (St. Petersburg Times): Hey, Howard. I wanted to ask you a little bit about how 24 has fit into the social fabric. Is the fact that you're ending the show now any kind of indication that we're in a different place now than we were when you started the show right after 9/11?

H. Gordon: The answer to me is really no. The show is eight years old -- actually, it's nine years old -- and eight seasons and a movie, so everything has its beginning, middle, and end. I think that might have been the case back in season six when it seemed that, I think, all these negative associations with the White House and torture policies and a bunch of other stuff I think were unfair and negative associations that the show was of a certain time. But I think season seven really successfully rebooted the show and answered some of those criticisms and I think leveled the playing ground again so we could just tell a good and exciting story. So I don't think it's a measure at all, frankly. In fact, I think the appetite would have been very much to keep us going if there was a story to tell. But Jack Bauer has a story; it has a beginning, middle, and end and I think we've just come to it.


Jon Garelick (Boston Phoenix): Hi, Howard. Thanks for taking the call. As a fan of the show, my latest yelling-at-the-television moment has been when the otherwise brilliant President Taylor accepts the advice of the sleazy Charles Logan over that of her trusted, loyal advisor Ethan Kanin. I was wondering how much debate or discussion went into that particular shift with the writers and maybe with Cherry Jones.

H. Gordon: It's really interesting because it was a profound and nerve-wracking and long and lengthy conversation we had. But it's one we sort of knew we needed to get there. There were a couple of things that really just pushed us over the edge here. The real-time thing didn't help any, but the fact of the matter is President Taylor has lost her family, this is really the crown jewel of her administration, and, frankly, her own legacy, and that desire was so profound that we believed it could distort her otherwise really clear, straight vision and throw her off this moral compass. Charles Logan seemed like a great devil on her shoulder, a great Iago.

The opportunity to have those two actors influence each other - again, I have to say that seeing the end really will help answer this question better, but we all were aware of it. Sherry was anxious playing it. By allowing that complexity, I think we got to take this character away from just her. Frankly, otherwise it gets to be kind of monotonous if she makes all the right choices -- of which, until this moment, she has. But it is like a momentary backslide, and you see how that one moment -- one lie -- begets another until, like Lady Macbeth, she finds herself too far gone and too steeped in blood to really go back again. So that ensnaring, that excretion of mistakes we see happening -- she gets caught kind of in her own web. And again, its resolution is pretty exciting, and that is what we're working toward.


Anthony Ferrante (If Magazine): My question is the whole thing that is going on with Chloe and Jack. The fact is, aside from his daughter, Chloe is probably the closest Jack has been to anybody and now you have them sort of at opposite ends. Do you have a resolution or pay off with that? Do you have time to pay that off in the sense of --

H. Gordon: Yes, it's a little bit like the last question, too. It's like we took three characters - Jack, Taylor and Chloe - and we really switched things around. We had these moments in episode 18 and 19 that were very, very difficult to write, and they really fought back. But there is a resolution, and I think they're all well learned. We try to create situations that credibly justified these change-ups in their characters and motivated them. So we could understand what was obviously a complex situation with a lot of moving parts, and it was difficult. And Mary Lynn felt this, too.

But again, to me, it's honoring this character. It is taking a character who isn't the same character she was all those years back when she was just sort of this very idiosyncratic analyst at CTU. She's a woman; she's an adult. She's a mother; she's a wife, and she's now a boss -- and a boss who is opposed to this old and good friend to whom she is loyal and who she cares about. But she also has a job to do, and this guy has lost someone and perhaps lost some part of himself in the process, which is potentially dangerous -- not only to Chloe's job but to the right thing. I think it's pretty well justified, and we do have enough time to resolve it. I think it has resolved pretty well.


Steve Eramo (SciFi and TV Talk): I wanted to find out maybe if you could tell us what have you enjoyed most, would you say, about your 24 experience and what has been perhaps the most creatively fulfilling for you, working on the show?

H. Gordon: Getting to work with such talented people is a privilege that you have to have been doing it for long enough and be of a certain age to really appreciate it. First of all, starting with my colleagues, my fellow writers were just brilliant. I got to work with, I think, some of the best writers and producers in the business. The entire crew -- because of the culture we created, everybody really was a stakeholder in the show, so whether it was hair and makeup or wardrobe or props, people all were involved. And our editors, our editors are some of the best storytellers I've ever met. Not that it was a democracy, but it certainly was a collective effort. It was a team, and a lot of these people have been on this team now for nine years, so getting to work with people - I'll never have the chance to work with this many talented people ever again -- to me, it was an amazing privilege. I can't really describe any great moment, but it was just a great nine years.


Mike Vicic (TV Tango): Has the Smithsonian asked for anything yet from the show? And what is the one thing you're going to take from the set?

H. Gordon: It's so funny; that's the second time someone asked me, and the prop guy actually gave me something. What he gave me was - I don't think I'm spoiling it, but it's a prop that hasn't been on yet. But it's a pen, a special pen. And that will come up, and I have that on my desk now -- a pen used for the signing of a peace treaty. And no, the Smithsonian has not asked, as far as I know. I hope they do.

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