‘24’ Returns After Blazing a Trail for Binge Viewing (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

Kiefer Sutherland

Dana Walden’s first encounter with the phenomenon of binge-watching came years ago when the 20th Century Fox TV chief ran into screenwriter Scott Rosenberg while on vacation in Hawaii. After introductions were made, Rosenberg noted that she ran the studio behind “24.”

“He let me know that he and his girlfriend had barely seen the Hawaiian sun because they’d started watching season one of ‘24’ and couldn’t stop,” Walden recalls.

Thirteen years after its debut, the Fox series, which aired from 2001-2010, can count binge-watching among the trailblazing accomplishments it has contributed to the contemporary boom in serialized dramas that feature cinematic flair. And Fox is again counting on Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer to save the day — and provide an eleventh-hour boost to the network’s fortunes at the close of a rocky season: The 12-episode “24: Live Another Day” reunion bows May 5 in the U.S., and nearly day-and-date in a host of other territories.

The experience of reuniting the “24” team for 12 more missions has caused the principals to reflect on how dramatically the TV biz has changed in just the four years since the series ended — and how much the 20th TV/Imagine TV series was ahead of the curve.

“It anticipated a lot of the trends that happened after our show (began),” says Bob Cochran, who created the series with Joel Surnow. “I can’t honestly say we anticipated those trends, but we were happy to take advantage of them.”

Onscreen, “24” was famously and eerily prescient about the world it depicted. Bauer was fighting terrorist plots in the pilot episode filmed months before the tragedy of 9/11. The show presented America with the notion of an African-American commander-in-chief eight years before Barack Obama was elected.

Storylines during its eight seasons often sparked controversy, as “24” made high drama out of torture as an anti-terrorism tool, and foresaw the use of military drones, cyber-warfare and the unpredictability of alliances among extremist groups.

Off camera, the “24” team was equally bold. Fox and 20th TV gambled on a project that broke every rule of repeatability (and syndication math) with its real-time storytelling format and emphasis on a weekly cliffhanger. It’s hard to imagine now, but when “24” opened in November 2001, DVRs were in a miniscule 1% of TV households. VOD and Internet streaming were even less prevalent for most viewers. There was no easy way for people to sample episodes if they hadn’t started out with the show from the start, and “24’s” ratings in its first season reflected this problem. Despite glowing reviews and a huge marketing push, the series didn’t catch fire at first.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Kiefer Sutherland, Producers on the Impact of “24”

Out of sheer determination to keep an expensive skein on the air, 20th TV decided to release the DVD box set of season one immediately rather than to wait a few years, as was the norm, in order to protect syndication sales.

“We knew how good (the show) was,” says Fox Broadcasting chief operating officer Joe Earley. “We knew if people had the chance to get caught up with it, they would stick with it.”
The DVD set sold surprisingly well, viewership on the network spiked in season two, and a business model for hyper-serialized programs was born.

Today, cable VOD, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have moved in on the physical disc territory, but the concept of allowing people the option of sampling — or scarfing — shows on their own timetable is the same.

Also significant was the decision starting in season four to move “24” out of the fall to a January premiere date in order to allow episodes to air over consecutive weeks without repeats through the end of the season. That move was hotly debated internally but wound up being a big boon to viewership.

“I’m so grateful we’re not looking back at it as one of those shows where we say, ‘If only it had been on a couple of years later,’” Walden says. “The ability to bring it back now is so rewarding.”

Howard Gordon, the longtime showrunner of “24,” spearheaded the idea of presenting the new iteration as a one-off miniseries lensing in London. Greenlighting the concept was a no-brainer for the network and the studio, given the depth of the global fan base and the fact that Sutherland — whose dedication to the role is cited by all involved as the linchpin of the enterprise — and the core creative team were onboard.

“Howard and Kiefer set such a tone as leaders of this show,” Walden says.

Sutherland had input in the tone of the new episodes, right down to influencing the image projected on the key art, according to Earley. He embraced the darker and edgier thrust of his character, who has been in hiding for the past four years since he made a narrow escape in the “24” series finale.

Cochran also came back to write several episodes. Surnow did not formally sign on, but stopped in to help edit the first few segs.

The shift to a 12-episode format also has been invigorating, and easier to manage than the regimen of 24 hourlong episodes.

“Every year we ran into a hiccup in the season usually around episode 15 or 16 when you had to make that shift to the last eight episodes; that was always the rough spot for us,” Sutherland says. “We don’t have that situation now. The story can be more condensed, more focused, and each episode more energized.”

For years there’s been chatter about Fox mounting a “24” movie, but Cochran is happy to see the series back on the smallscreen rather than forcing the concept into a two-hour feature.

“I’m glad (‘24’) came back this way,” he says. “This is more of its natural habitat.”

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  1. Al Angel says:

    It has taken a long,long time for such a great program to come to life once again. 24 has been gone for far to long, and it really is terrific having the program back, and I just hope it will continue for a long time to come.

  2. PAT TIERNEY says:

    I’ve been waiting for this for four years welcome back Kiefer!

    To be honest I think Monday will be tough ratings wise in the U.S.with competition from The Voice on NBC, CBS’ popular comedy lineup, and Dancing with The Stars on ABC which gave 24 trouble four years ago.
    Hopefully viewers will come back as I along with others are appreciative of FOX’s effort to return 24 to its schedule.

    NOW GO GET EM JACK!!!!

  3. cadavra says:

    “DVRs were in a miniscule 1% of TV households. VOD and Internet streaming were even less prevalent for most viewers.”

    You cannot be serious. Have you completely forgotten a little item called a VCR that was in almost every household?

    • southpaw2k says:

      VCRs didn’t help networks track ratings the way DVRs, VOD, and streaming online have.

      • cadavra says:

        You both missed my point. The gentleman inferred that ratings were soft the first season because many people didn’t watch it “live” and that seemed to be the only option, or if they missed an episode or two, they opted not to resume. I was pointing out that this was not the case, and the show could easily have been recorded. I did it myself often.

    • DVRs and VCRs alike don’t help when you’ve missed several episodes though, which was the point really.

  4. Erica says:

    Many stoke victims suffer from depression afterwards. My mom said that she was too busy helping Jack save the world! She’s fully recovered and has back to work for years now, but we all anxiously anticipate watching the new series!

  5. Don Walker says:

    My 23 yr old son and I spent an entire month while I was recouporating from surgery and binged watched the entire 10 years….Can’t wait for the new series!

  6. I’m soooooo excited!!! And I really hope this series will live up to the best seasons of 24.
    If they’re making it again they must have a good reason… (I keep on telling myself).
    Please be good, please be good, please be good, please be good, please be good…

  7. Mike says:

    Thanks, loved that show.

  8. I’ve watched and bought every DVD set. I planned if I had a son I would name him Jack. I had a daughter in 2012, so I named her Zoey after the beloved adorable Chloe, Jacks go to sidekick! I’m so excited that 24 will be returning. Best TV show I’ve ever watch and yes its addictive!

  9. Jean Desir says:

    Welcome back Jack!

  10. sig pro says:

    looks like jack switch to the p30.

  11. Diane says:

    Im $ooo excited my favourite tv series is back. Jack , well I have to say the entire body engaging a reaction to every action on the screen you put life into my week just anticipatng each week of thrill , intensity, suspense, passion,being at the edge of my seat of whats gonna happen next. Its the best tv series to hit tv and 24 paved the way for how other shows bring theirs to tv.24 ‘s got great crew n cast . Its beyound real …love the show #1 fan at the birth of the show never missed an episode. Pls mr howard keep this show alive every season..its a thrill to watch #action

  12. anne dunlap says:

    I think it is great that 24 is coming back. if my boyfriend survived for this long he would be watching it but is in Heaven

  13. Nikki Wadleigh says:

    You could even get back people who lost track of Jack! I, for one, would love to see this come back full time! Looking forward to the new episodes!

  14. Kelly Clary says:

    How can he bring people back to 24? Who left?! I never did and there are many 100s of thousands that did not with the help of Netflix and DVDs. I am just picking up where WE left off! So excited!

  15. Because of the advent of Hulu and Netflix, and other such subscription services, the opportunity exists for a larger audience than when the show originally aired. Folks like I, who hadn’t seen a single episode until Summer 2013, are clamoring for the new show and many more to follow!

  16. Bill says:

    It simply would not have been “24” had they not wisely chosen to bring back Mary Lynn Rajskub’s Chloe. Jack needs a confidant somewhere, and as the finale showed, Chloe grew to be the only person Jack could ever truly trust.

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