Exec producer leaves to pursue other projects

Time’s up for “24″ exec producer Joel Surnow.

With his contract up at 20th Century Fox TV, Surnow has opted to depart the Kiefer Sutherland thriller.

Separately, three of the top exec producers on ABC’s frosh drama “Women’s Murder Club” have left that show as well.

On “24,” Surnow had already stepped back from day-to-day operations, as Howard Gordon has been running the hit Fox skein for some time. But Surnow said he’s been looking to move on to other things, and the writers’ strike provided a natural break.

“I’ve done seven years, almost eight years at the same place with the same great group of people,” Surnow said. “During the strike I started thinking about different things I’d like to do independently, and decided it was time to see if there were other opportunities I wanted to pursue.”

Meanwhile, Surnow’s deal was set to expire at the end of April. Rather than renew, both sides agreed to part ways.

Insiders close to Surnow said “24′s” grueling schedule — it’s a difficult show to write and produce, given the real-time format — played a big role in his decision to move on as well. But as Surnow noted, as co-creator (with Bob Cochran), he’ll still tangentially be a part of the show.

“I’ll always stay close to the show as long as ’24′ is on the air,” Surnow said. “Howard Gordon is one of my best friends in the business. He and I will continue to talk about it.”

Not only does the strike provide an obvious segue, but Surnow’s departure also comes as “24″ shakes things up in its seventh season (which will now be delayed until January 2009), including a move in locale to Washington, D.C.

“That started before the strike,” Surnow noted. “I was part of that conceptual left turn. The quality of the show week-to-week will be maintained to a very high standard.”

In a statement, 20th Century Fox TV said Surnow “created one of the landmark series of this decade in ’24′ and his contribution to its creative excellence over the years has been immeasurable. While he leaves the show in the incredibly capable hands of the talented Howard Gordon, his input will always be welcome.”

As a side project, Surnow last year created the conservative-leaning news satire “The ½ Hour News Hour” for Fox News Channel. But Surnow said he’ll probably stick to hourlong drama for his next pursuit.

“It’s what I love,” Surnow said. “I’d love to come up with another show that has some of the qualities that ’24′ has, in terms of being unique… I’m going to look around for some of the passion projects that I have and start meeting some people in town.”

Surnow’s past credits include “La Femme Nikita” and “Wiseguy.”

As for “Women’s Murder Club,” exec producers Scott Gemmill, Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain are out, as 20th Century Fox TV looks to bring on new showrunners in a bid to keep the show on the air. ABC hasn’t yet determined whether “Women’s Murder Club” will continue; decision whether to renew the bubble show hinges on whom 20th recruits as the show’s new leader.

Craft and Fain created “Women’s Murder Club,” based on the series of books by James Patterson. Gemmill, Craft and Fain remain under overall deals at 20th.

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