’24’ headed to the bigscreen

Fox TV, film studios team on feature adaptation

Twentieth Century Fox’s film and TV studios are conspiring to finally bring hit television series “24” to the bigscreen.

The film side has hired scribe Billy Ray (“State of Play,” “Flightplan”) to pen the script for the feature version.

Ray’s pitch, which takes Jack Bauer to Europe, was a hit with Fox execs and producers of the high-concept television series.

Ray also wrote and directed “Breach” and “Shattered Glass.”

Script is said to have come through “24” star Kiefer Sutherland, who’s also an exec producer on the series — and is said to be eager to turn the long-running TV skein into a feature franchise.

Feature would be produced by the TV show’s key exec producers, including Sutherland. Series was created by Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow, while exec producer Howard Gordon runs the show through his Real Time Prods. banner.

Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment, which produces the show along with 20th Century Fox TV, also would be involved.

Insiders cautioned that a “24” feature is still very much in the preliminary stages. There are a number of factors influencing how quickly it moves ahead, including the fate of the TV show.

Fox doesn’t have a deal for a ninth season of “24” and hasn’t yet decided whether to order another season. Insiders said the network is waiting to see this week’s ratings before making a decision, but the betting is that this season will be the final one.

Even if Fox winds up passing on another year of “24,” 20th Century Fox TV could shop the show to other nets. In that case, a feature might have to take a back seat.

The series’ producers have been kicking around the possibility of a feature adaptation for several years and came close to moving ahead on one several years ago.

But the prospect of shooting a film while the show was still on the air was daunting for the cast and producers. Critics and fans of “24” have always enthused about how the show is produced like a feature — and the film studio would want to move most of the “24” series crew to work on the film. That’s difficult to do while “24” is in production, and hiatuses aren’t nearly long enough to shoot a movie.

The show’s producers did take advantage of the writers strike to make a TV movie, however: “24: Redemption,” which aired prior to the show’s seventh season in 2008, was nominated for five Emmys.

The allure of spinning a popular TV series into a bigscreen film is hard to ignore for studio execs, since there is a built-in audience and brand awareness; “24” has also been a mammoth hit for the studio in foreign markets, which suggests that a feature adaptation would travel well.

Fox saw big rewards from turning TV toon “The Simpsons” into a feature film. In 2007, “The Simpsons” grossed $183.1 million domestically and $343.9 million overseas for a worldwide cume of $527.1 million.

Studio saw strong returns when adapting TV series “The X-Files.” Feature film “The X-Files,” released in 1998 when the show was still on the air, grossed $83.9 million at the domestic B.O. and $105.3 million overseas for a total cume of $189.2 million.

The second outing wasn’t nearly as successful, however. “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” released in 2008, six years after the series went off the air, grossed just $68.4 million worldwide.

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