’24’ star stays on Fox clock

Sutherland inks 3-year deal

The future of one of 20th Century Fox TV’s most important franchises is safe for three more years, with “24” star Kiefer Sutherland inking a rich eight-figure deal to stay with the show through May 2009.

As part of the just-inked pact, Sutherland will establish a production company on the 20th lot to produce series programming for both broadcast and cable networks. He’s expected to begin searching for a development exec shortly.

Deal gives Sutherland a significant pay bump, making him one of the highest-paid drama thesps on television.

Sutherland, currently co-exec producer on “24,” will be bumped up to exec producer for the upcoming sixth and seven seasons of the show. He shares that title with creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, as well as Howard Gordon and Evan Katz.

Finally, while the deal with 20th is for TV only, Sutherland said he and the show’s producers continue to believe in the idea of bringing the “24” franchise to the bigscreen. Earliest pic would begin shooting, however, is late spring 2007, Sutherland said.

As for his new TV pact, Sutherland said 20th presidents Dana Walden and Gary Newman have “been amazing allies” throughout the history of “24.”

“So often the execs seem to be at odds with (the creators and thesps), and that hasn’t been our experience,” he told Daily Variety.

Sutherland said his new shingle likely will focus on drama development, but he’s not limiting himself to that genre if the right comedy idea comes along. He also credited skeins such as “Sex and the City,” “The West Wing” and 20th-produced “Prison Break” as inspiring his interest in trying his hand at production.

“Programming on television has opened up and jumped leaps and bounds over the kinds of restrictions it once had,” Sutherland said.

Execs at 20th said Sutherland has the chops needed to develop and execute series projects.

Walden said the thesp “is fiercely intelligent and has fantastic taste in material.”

Newman said Sutherland’s work on “24” has shown an “understanding of what makes for a compelling story or character, and he brings a passion to the process of making television that extends well beyond his own performance.”

New deal for Sutherland comes as “24” is experiencing some of the best ratings and critical notices of its five-year run. Skein is up 13% among adults 18-49, with its 5.9/13 making it a staple of Nielsen’s top 15.

“The writers keep managing to turn the show in on itself, coming up with something that’s well thought-out and miraculous,” Sutherland said.

He said the writers plan to take little more than a month off once the current season wraps production in the next few weeks. “It’s reinvigorated us to really attack the next season,” he said.

Quality control is the chief reason a “24” feature couldn’t shoot during the upcoming hiatus, Sutherland added.

“It was really Joel and Bob and Howard realizing that if we were going to squeeze it in during the break, we would have been rushing it,” he said. “If we were going to do it, we would do it next summer. It’s still a big ‘if.’ We would not go forward unless we thought we could do it right.”

Pic likely would depart from the series by condensing an entire day into about two hours, rather than unfolding in real time.

Sutherland isn’t shooting a feature this hiatus in anticipation of working on a “24” pic next summer. He’ll next be seen opposite Michael Douglas and Kim Basinger in “The Sentinel,” opening April 21. He also voices a lion in Disney toon “The Wild.”