Inside Move: Phone number has a familiar ring

Onscreen digits lead to deluge of 'fan phone' calls

Interactive TV has taken on a whole new meaning for the producers of “24.”

For the past week, thousands of the show’s viewers from around the globe — more than 50,000 at last count– have been able to reach out and talk to producers and actors from the hit Fox drama simply by dialing a phone number in LA’s 310 area code.

Turns out last week’s episode featured a fleeting shot of the caller ID display on a character’s cell phone. But rather than the usual fake 555 number — producers didn’t want to waste time or money building a fake cell phone display — the digits shown were that of an actual phone used by a prop tech who works on “24.”

The number was flashed so quickly, it was impossible to see — unless you happened to be recording the show on tape or on TiVo. Producers figured they night get a couple of calls from curious types, but were left stunned by what happened next.

Within minutes of the show airing on the East Coast, the calls started flooding in, said “24” co-exec producer and helmer Jon Cassar.

“The second people saw it, curiosity got the better of them,” Cassar said.

At first, the prop guy canceled the contract for the cell phone, but Cassar quickly reversed that decision. Nextel, which provides service to the line, agreed to reinstate the line and even started keeping track of how many times people called the number.

“It never stops ringing,” Cassar said, who notes that many people, stunned that a real person is on the line, simply hang up. Producers and cast members have been taking turns answering the calls of those who don’t hang up.

“We’ve nicknamed it the fan phone,” Cassar said. “It’s exciting for us, because we get some feedback from viewers. This one woman from San Francisco ended up talking to five actors.”

The fan phone has been such a hit, Cassar said he plans on showing another real phone number in the show’s upcoming 10th episode. Those who want to try their luck getting Kiefer Sutherland can call (310) 597-3781.

News Corp. bean counters, meanwhile, can rest easy. The fan phone’s Nextel contract boasts free incoming calls.