There are still 10 hours remaining in Day Seven of “24,” but Jack Bauer’s already stared down a Senate subcommittee, been framed for multiple murders, thwarted a siege at the White House, knocked out several government agents, been slapped by an FBI colleague, infiltrated a terrorist organization, flipped over a construction trailer with a bulldozer, mourned the death of a friend and killed more people than influenza.
Kiefer Sutherland, though, is already looking forward to Day Eight.
Talking to reporters at the press day for his upcoming animated film “Monsters vs. Aliens,” Sutherland reflected on the show’s seventh season, which was delayed for a year due to the writers strike.
“As much as the writer’s strike I think was a difficult time for everybody, there were some benefits to us absolutely,” he says. “We had 15 months for us to shoot what we normally shoot with 10. And we certainly got hit for it quite hard for it in season six, but it’s been a difficulty that we’ve had from the very first season we were on. It’s a three-act play for us, so each eight episodes kind of transitions into another story. Some of those transition points have been really sticky for us and really difficult. And because of the time we were afforded, the writers actually, we were in production and at about episode sixteen or seventeen and they just shut down. They were having a hard time with that transition and they just stopped and they took the three weeks an they figured something out. And it was very technical. It wasn’t character driven. It was not dialogue driven, but it was a structural entity that lead us into the last transition into the final eight episodes. We would not have had that time and historically have never had that time specifically in that time of the season.”
Sutherland continues, “So, it was a huge benefit for us and why we are starting in May this year instead of August so we will have finished, I think, 22 episodes by the time it goes to air again. So, at any given moment, if we need to stop and figure something out, we have afforded ourselves that time. I’m don’t know why it took us seven years to figure that out and a writer’s strike, but we have.”
Sutherland isn’t jumping the gun here. FOX and 20th Century Fox TV reached a two-year renewal for the series back in 2007, not that there was ever any question that the network would want another installment of one of its most stable franchises. Helped in no small part by FOX’s decision to move “House” to Monday nights as a lead-in, “24” hasn’t missed a step since returning to the air this January after a one-year absence. The season’s first half has averaged nearly 11.8 million viewers, down comfortably from the audience for the past two seasons, but given that lengthy hiatus and given the largely negative response to Day Six, that’s pretty good.
“If you take a look at television as a medium, it has lost 40 percent of its viewership,” Sutherland says [citing questionable statistics]. “I was aware of the terrible ramifications for Major League Baseball when it went on strike. National Hockey League went on strike and it was replaced by f***ing poker and poker did better. And you can’t find a hockey game now, so yeah, I was terrified. The idea we were able to come back and do the same numbers that we had been doing in the previous years? You have no idea the relief. I mean, our whole crew. Everybody. We have been working for seven and a half years. We’ve got 98% of the same people there were day on day one and I think of it like that. There has been nine marriages, 15 kids born on our show and you have no idea the relief that we had. We were very, very scared about it.”
Of course, taking to a group of film journalists, Sutherland got the same questions about a “24” movie he’s been fielding for years and he gave the same answer he’s been giving for years now: Sure, they’d love to do one, but not just yet.
“We always thought it would be cruel and unusual punishment to ask the writers to write in the course of 12 months,  films and then in their off time say, ‘By the way, if you have a great idea for a feature film that’s so special, write that as well.’ So, we kind of collectively agreed that we would entertain the idea of a film when the series was finished. And if people still wanted to see something like that we’d be really excited to do it, because the format that we would make the movie in, because we have discussed it, would be a two-hour representation of a 24-hour day. So, we would loose the realtime aspect which would be a huge freedom for the writers, but it is something that we would not even start to do until the series would finished.”
“24” airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on FOX.
“Monsters vs. Aliens” opens on March 27.
[Additional reporting by Gregory Ellwood.]