Tradecraft: Are Jack Bauer's Long, Awful Days Numbered?
Jack Bauer's had a lot of really bad days over the last decade. Now, it appears his future may be brightening... even as 24's dims. Is a peaceful retirement really in the cards for Grampa Jack? Variety reports that Fox "appears ready to end the long-running hit after this season, the show's eighth," adding that "it's believed that the final decision will be made in the next day or two." The Emmy-winning, real-time spy drama still gets good ratings, but they're apparently no longer good enough to justify its massive budget. "The cost of producing 24 has continued to increase," according to the trade, "while ratings have dipped. A one-time critical darling, 24 has also received its share of knocks from critics this season."
Personally, I thought this season started out quite strongly, and benefitted from another change of location (to New York) and solid new cast members (it's the first time I've ever liked Freddie Prinze Jr. on anything, and at first he seemed to be being groomed as a possible Kiefer Sutherland replacement). It quickly proceeded to go off the rails, however, as it always does–just not quite as quickly as it has in recent years. Frankly, I think the concept has outstayed its welcome on TV anyway. It was a great concept centered around one of the best characters in modern spy fiction, but always somewhat lacking in the execution. While I think that the world-threatening terrorist plots alone would have been enough to drive the series each season–especially coupled with realistic office politics–the producers never seemed comfortable relying on them. Instead, they inserted ludicrous soap opera subplots and petty workplace squabbles that belonged on a sitcom, not a gritty drama. This filler padded out season after season and got worse as it went along.
It was recently announced that Fox was moving forward on a long-rumored feature film version of 24, starring Sutherland and written by Breach's Billy Ray. I firmly believe that this is exactly where the future of the franchise should lie. As I've said here and numerous times before, Jack Bauer is a great character who I'd love to see in a more traditional format, ala Bond or Bourne. A lean feature won't have time to get bogged down with the lesser aspects of the series, and provides Jack the opportunity to travel the world. The series was somewhat rejuvenated by getting out of LA; I think the movie will be even moreso by taking him to Europe.
Of course, rumors of 24's cancelation are purely speculation at this point. Is there still hope for 24 on TV? Sure. Variety asserts that "the studio is said to be considering shopping 24 to other [networks] -- but given the thriller's age and pricetag, it's believed interest from other outlets will be limited."