Fox counting down to ’24’ pic

Hit series headed to the bigscreen

After years of speculation, the clock’s officially ticking down toward a “24” feature film.

Twentieth Century Fox has closed a deal with series creators Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow, as well as showrunner Howard Gordon, to bring the Kiefer Sutherland real-time thriller to the bigscreen.

Surnow and Cochran will write the script, with Gordon working on the story. All three will produce via their Real Time Prods. banner, as will Imagine’s Brian Grazer.

No talent deals are yet in place, though Sutherland — an exec producer of the hit Fox series — has made it clear he’s interested in starring in the film should it snag a greenlight.

It’s understood the Cochran-Surnow-Gordon troika will begin work on the script late this summer, just as production on the sixth season of the TV skein gets under way.

Execs at 20th should have a draft of the script in their hands by early winter, insiders said. Once they see the script — and look at ratings for the first few episodes of season six, which kicks off in January — they’ll be able to make a decision on greenlighting production of the film.

Under the most optimistic scenario, feature would be greenlit early next year and lense next spring and summer during the hiatus between season six and a likely seventh season of “24.”

Current plan calls for the “24” feature to abandon the real-time conceit of the TV show, making Sutherland’s Jack Bauer, rather than the clock, the star.

Such a notion would allow scribes much greater plot possibilities, opening up scenarios not possible on a show where all the action takes place in one day. Chief on the list is international travel.

It’s believed producers are toying with several possible locales for the pic, including London. Skein has a strong aud base in Blighty.

A rough sketch of the “24” feature plot has been drafted, but all those involved in the project are keeping a tight lid on details for now.

Pic would likely pick up where season six of the show leaves off, at least chronologically. Plotwise, however, the film is not expected to be tied too heavily to the “24” mythology, allowing those who haven’t watched the series to understand the movie’s action.

The “24” franchise is part of the News Corp. family: It’s produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine Television. Latter shingle has an overall deal with the TV studio.

Small-screen studio, under prexies Gary Newman and Dana Walden, has already been active in exploiting multiple platforms for “24” –including a pioneering series of “mobisodes” tied to the skein. Studio also produced a DVD-only short that bridged the gap between the show’s fourth and fifth seasons.

Just-wrapped fifth season of “24” repped a watershed for the skein both creatively and commercially. Ratings were up 14% vs. 2005, with nearly 14 million viewers every week, and kudos pundits have been talking up the series’ Emmy prospects.

If the “24” feature ultimately gets a greenlight, it would join a number of other 20th features in the works based on series from sister studio 20th Century Fox Television.

A bigscreen version of “The Simpsons” is planned for next year, while there continues to be buzz about reviving “The X-Files” franchise with a second feature film. In 1998, Fox released “The X-Files: Fight the Future,” based on the Fox net skein.

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