Life After a TV Death

On Saturday March 27th, series co-producer/director Jon Cassar announced in a Twitter feed that Fox had decided to ax 24, ending a period of speculation as to whether the network would give the show another year of life.

So ends a ground-breaking show whose terrorist plots were built around 24 hours of a single day, and contained the greatest concentration of Canadian talent for a single TV series.

(Unless that Canuckle talent finds work soon, they may be doomed to appear in SyFy TV movies about alien marshmallows, or more Clive Barker ‘presentations’ based on napkin doodles scribbled during a Via ride to Vancouver.)

I’m actually not surprised the show’s been axed, though my suspicions are due to a number of issues. Season 1 was perfect, Season 2 was pretty good; Season 3 had one good episode, and the rest was rabbit rubbish; Season 4 had half a good episode, and the rest had the CTU unit reduced to the most inept group of secret service dingbats, incapable of protecting the U.S. from a rogue shipment of rancid cabbage.

I actually have no memory of Season 5 because it seems to have blurred with Season 6, but I do recall Season 6 being great fun, and making me eager for further adventures of Jack Bauer, a loyal American patriot (played by Canadian Kiefer Sutherland) who technically died in an episode, and technically still has a weak heart from all that shock-torture-drug stuff (ailments that everyone convenient ‘forgot’ in later seasons).

No matter, since Jack returned for a 7th and the current 8th Season, but I think the reason the show’s been felled may be due to its high cost (full action sequences spread over 24 episodes is pricey), a high-profile and very large cast, a star who may be getting tired of all that running and jumping, Fox’ alleging low ratings of a boo-hoo 9 million from prior 13 million, and perhaps the character of Bauer being less relevant today.

24 benefitted from a tense sense of paranoia within the U.S. of terror striking from sleeper cells and porous border control, and the series’ writers often incorporated current and possible news items that kept it current, but with the terror fear subjugated by real economic woes today, people may want outright escapism – 3D action and fantasy films – instead of a series that tells them Your World is Crumbling over 24 week period.

Even James Bond left a muffled impact at the box office last year with the rotten egg The Quantum of Solace, so perhaps stories about global terrorism or singular despots are too negative when people are losing houses, jobs, and the realities of living on credit push audiences for fantastic tales.

It’s all speculation, and it may well be audiences are growing tired of Bauer, but Fox can still exploit the character while he’s fresh in the minds of avid fans. What Fox and Sutherland shouldn’t do is a one-time feature film; it failed miserably on both occasions for The X-Files, and neither film offers anything of merit to the lore and characters of the show’s first five years.

What Fox and Sutherland should do is a series of TV movies – basically an entire season without the fat, silly tangents and filler episodes. Just Jack dealing with a persistent threat that unfolds in two, three or four 90 min. cliffhanger teleplays that closes the Bauer saga over a four month period.

The damned things would sell as a four-movie DVD set with longer director cuts and extras, and one of the most inventive shows ends with dignity, instead of being left unresolved, or picked up by another network (NBC’s been rumored to have expressed interest), and altered to suit the network’s in-house style.

Fox never cared what was said or shown on TV as long as ad sales and ratings were solid, so I doubt more conservative NBC would allow a character to have his body drilled repeatedly with a foot-long power tool. (It happened, and it was nasty!)

Now’s the time for clarity and sober thinking, so here’s hoping Fox and Sutherland don’t muck up a good thing. The final episode of 24 airs May 24th on Fox in the U.S., and Global in Canada.


To the other end is Roger Ebert’s own blog on the cancellation of At the Movies, the show he and partner Gene Siskel started in 1975. Disney axed the syndicated show this past March 24th, and Ebert, ever the active soul, has plans to get a new show going.

Ebert describes the new project a bit, and he gives an elegiac tribute to his old beloved show in what may be the most dignified tribute to a series from which a host was ousted. (Ebert and co-host Richard Roeper ‘cut ties’ with Disney when the company wanted to revamp the show into Pablum, but it’s still a putsch orchestrated by a parent company.)

It’s the classiest thing I’ve read in a while, and I hope the new project becomes a reality, meeting all of the requirements in Ebert’s outline. What’s surprising is not that his aim to cover current, past, contemporary, classic, and indie work is daring; that’s exactly what he used to do with Siskel before roepertitis and pablumitis became incipient.

Film criticism has taken a good forty whacks to the head as media enterprises keeping gutting their permanent staff, so maybe Ebert’s project might bring some intelligence back to film review shows.

More editorial blather to follow.



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