DVD episode to bridge gap between seasons

This week’s season-four DVD release of “24″ contains an ambitious bonus mini-episode of the show — but the seg didn’t cost 20th Century Fox TV a dime.

In order to build buzz for next month’s fifth-season premiere of “24,” the show’s producers and 20th decided to film a roughly 10-minute seg designed to bridge the gap between the two seasons. A similar (but much shorter) scene was included on the season-three DVD release of “24.”

Seg’s production cost has been pegged in the low seven-figure range, including an elaborate chase scene. But in a rare move for the DVD market, 20th struck a sponsorship/product-placement deal with Toyota that ended up essentially covering the cost of the bonus episode.

“They’re paying a substantial fee to have their cars prominently used in the prequel,” 20th Century Fox TV prexy Gary Newman told Daily Variety. “That’s how we’re dealing with the cost.”

And because car chases are integral to “24″ anyway, “it fits in organically with what we wanted to do creatively,” Newman added.

But while product-placement deals for broadcasts of TV shows are usually designed to drive revenue, Newman said there “isn’t the expectation that we’ll derive any revenues (or) sell any more DVDs” because of the bonus seg.

Instead, Newman sees the mini-episode — penned by “24″ showrunner Howard Gordon — as a marketing play.

“What we want is to get people talking about ’24,’ ” Newman said. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity … to fuel the buzz for the show’s return.”

The last season of “24″ ended with a cliffhanger of sorts, as Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) faked his own death and disappeared.

“The prequel (is) a great opportunity to address some unanswered questions from the end of last season (and) to give fans some clues about the season ahead,” Gordon said.

The prequel will only be available to U.S. viewers via DVD. Internationally, however, 20th has made the seg available to local broadcasters to use as a promo tool to hype the fifth season of “24.”

Mini-episode is set 14 months after the season-four finale and kicks off with a clandestine meeting between Bauer and Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub). It ends with a high-speed chase featuring Bauer and an unknown bad guy.

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