[b]One Hour at a Time with the Cast and Crew of '24'
Tue, Mar 11, 2003 05:13 PM PDT
by Daniel Fienberg Zap2it, TV News
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) - For two seasons, the impression has been that the cast and crew of FOX's "24" are a cagey lot, hoarding plot twists and secrets. Another possibility arose at the Monday night (March 10) session of the Museum of Television and Radio's William S. Paley Festival.
Maybe the reason everybody keeps secrets so well is that they just don't know the answers themselves.
More than halfway through its second season, "24" has already reached the point at which the producers admit that they're somewhat flying by the seat of their pants.
"The first six episodes, we come up with an arc that kick-starts the season," says Joel Surnow, the show's co-creator and executive producer. "From that point on, we're going two or three episodes at a time."
The cast members all have memories of being handed scripts that completely reversed their characters.
"I was told that he was a senator running for president. That was all I needed," says Dennis Haysbert of his initially underwritten Senator (now President) Palmer. "I had no idea I was not going to be able to trust my wife. I had no idea I was not going to be able to trust my kids."
Sarah Clarke, who plays Nina Myers, recalls her first impressions of her character: "I said, 'Oh, she seems like such a nice girl.'"
Nina, of course, went on to betray her country, kill her boss's wife, sell plans for a government building to terrorists and help smuggle a nuclear weapon into Los Angeles.
"I was a mother, a wife, a traitor and a pimp. In one day. And it works," says Penny Johnson Jerald of Sherry, Palmer's duplicitous ex-wife. "Sherry is so good at what she does that she's fooling Penny right now."
"Anything can happen on this show," Surnow notes. "No one is really safe."
With ideas and plot twists flying fast and furious on set, sometimes survival can be a game-time decision.
Goofing on the show's unique 24-hour format, executive producer Howard Gordon says that sometimes things are so last-second that "We kinda write it in real time."
"Yeah. Those are our favorite scripts," deadpans star Kiefer Sutherland, who plays increasingly unhinged government agent Jack Bauer.
For this season, at least, the biggest victim of the ever-evolving plot has been Jack's perpetually wayward daughter Kim, played by Elisha Cuthbert. The season began with Kim as an au pair working for an abusive psycho, featured a ludicrous escape from police custody and reached a nadir with part of an episode devoted to Kim staring nervously at a predatory cougar.
The producers admit that last season's kidnapping plotline kept Kim central to the main story, but this season they've had to stretch. They describe a series of corkboards tracing the show's story lines and note that the Kim-plot board is always the last to be determined.
Fortunately, there's always a fallback.
"Kim takes a shower. For an hour," Surnow says. "She's the cleanest character on television."
With improved ratings this season, FOX took the early step of announcing that "24" would be back for a third season next fall in the same near-real-time format.
"As we all go, 'Yay! We got a third season,' [the writers] go 'Ugh, we got a third season,'" says Sutherland.
How can the writers think of next year when this season's conclusion is still very much a mystery? In the most recent episode, which aired March 4, the year's major threat, a terrorist nuclear attack on U.S. soil, was resolved in explosive fashion. Will upcoming episodes deal with the aftermath of that shocking event? Will they deal with the government cabal that seeks to overthrow Palmer's presidency? Will viewers discover what Jack whispered in Nina's ear before she was taken back into custody? Will forgotten characters like Eric Balfour's Milo or Mia Kirshner's Mandy get return engagements?
"We may see some people from last year or this year who disappeared," Surnow hedges.
"Or we may not," says Gordon.
"Which means we will," adds Sutherland.
Surnow responds, "Or not."