February 4, 2008


Reinventing '24': Jack Bauer's newest nemesis isn't a terrorist -- it's public opinion. (REBECCA DANA, February 2, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Last spring, Fox executives asked producers to come up with a plan for what to do with their onetime crown jewel. The producers decided to take the radical -- and rarely attempted -- step of reinventing the show. While some fans complained "24" had grown too formulaic, the producers also grudgingly saw the importance of wrestling the show from its ties to an unpopular conflict.

The result: "24" is nowhere to be found on the TV schedule. For weeks the show's producers tried to reconcile the show's premise with the new public mood. Should Jack atone for his sins? Is Jack bad? The script rewrites and philosophical crises left the show so far behind schedule that when the Hollywood writers went on strike in November, Fox had no choice but to delay its premiere date. The show could premiere this summer, next fall or as late as January 2009.

At the center of it all is 46-year-old Mr. Gordon. The Princeton-educated intellectual and self-described "left-leaning centrist" finds himself in the awkward position of championing a television show he loves without condoning the real-life ideology it is so often associated with. "If anything, Howard is too thoughtful," says Dana Walden, chairman of 20th Century Fox Television. "His process is so thoughtful that sometimes it's hard to get a script out of him." [...]

On May 31, the show's head writers went in for a meeting at the studio to present their first big idea: sending Jack to Africa. In various incarnations, Jack would begin the season digging ditches, building houses, tending to orphans, providing security for an embassy or escorting around a visiting dignitary. "One of the themes we discussed was penance, that Africa was a place Jack had gone to seek some kind of penance. Some sanctuary too, but also penance for things he's done in his life," Mr. Gordon says.

Watched the first episode of that Canadian series, The Border, that one of the networks just bought. Not only is it anti-American, which is fairly predictable, but the central tension of the show is the good guy head of the customs and immigration service trying to save Canada from its too zealous prosecution of the WoT and its political incorrectness. And, no, it isn't a comedy, though it is hilarious.

Bullet-proof vetted: Jack Bauer knockoffs that give no-frill thrills (Robert Cushman, 2/04//08, National Post)

The Border, apart from contributing to CBC's new drama push, is part of a movement to shine a glamorous light on government departments with less than glamorous titles. In The Border it's Immigration and Customs Security; in Global's The Guard, it's the Canadian Coastguard's Search and Rescue Team. The latter sounds as if it should be more thrilling, but so far it's The Border that's hit the ground running.

Not that it hasn't done some stumbling. The remainder of the premiere dealt with the disputed fate of the putative accomplice, a Canadian citizen whose crimes seemed to be: a) being of Syrian origin; b) occupying the next seat on the incoming flight; c) letting the terrorist slip him the name of a good orthodontist -- an excuse regarded by the hardliners at CSIS as so much dental floss. The CSIS boss wanted to send the man back to Syria, with all that that would entail. The decent chaps at ICS would have none of this. And so the battle of the acronyms was joined, and won by the good guys with disappointingly little effort. I had imagined that we were just at the start of an intricate intrigue, in the manner of 24 in its great days, but The Border, like The Guard, has turned out to be not a serial but a series --i.e. a show in which the same characters face similar problems every week. (Both try to kid you that they have continuity by starting each week with one of those "previously on ..." announcements that only sound good when delivered by Kiefer Sutherland.)

Well, at least The Border seems committed to exploring every region in which the country belonging to us abuts the country belonging to them. "Them" is of course the United States, and they have been behaving very themmishly, indeed. The hawkish CSIS man (as portrayed by Nigel Bennett) just about counts as a crypto-American, but he has turned out to be the merest curtain-raiser. In the second episode, the Yanks sent in the cavalry, in the shape of a young lady from Homeland Security, an immigrant herself, with an an attitude like Ann Coulter with security clearance. Robert Fulford has already complained in these pages about the show's unwavering anti-Americanism; in the given context, I can't see that that's so bad -- it's not as if the Maher Arar case didn't happen -- but I do agree that the execution is formulaic.

When is anti-Americanism ever more than reflexive? If it were thoughtful it wouldn't exist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 4, 2008 3:57 PM

He's correct that public opinion is what's causing lower ratings, but he's got it backwards. It's the slouching toward political correctness that's losing viewers, not the other way round.

Things were on the right track until a couple of seasons ago when abruptly things changed and the Americanized kid of the Islamic terrorists was dumped unceremoniously from the script. After that things never really made that much sense.

I have a solution, why not shift the bad guys to blond blue-eyed Nazi survivalist types living in Idaho who are planning to blow up RoPniks, reveal that Bauer is really OBL and that all the women’s parts were played by men.

Both NCIS and The Unit had a couple of close calls last season. Any more and they’ll be removed from the DVR like Numb3rs, Law & Order, Two-and-a-Half Men and anything with Alec Baldwin ....

So far, Project Runway is safe.

Posted by: erp at February 4, 2008 6:16 PM

Nigel Bennett, talk about 'fang planted firmly in
cheek" reference to the malevolent vampire talk show host he played in "Forever Knight". The ironies kind of overwhelming; '24 was derailed more likely by all the left macguffin's that ultimately overwhelmed the plot. The innocent Moslem human rights leader, the nearly demonic
patriarch of the Bauer clan (Cromwell serves very nearly the same function as Nigel Bennett) The overzealous chief of staff, carved from their caricature of the Federalist society. The yuppie
staffer who actually stages a presidential assasination, the free-lance engineer who primes
the bombs; and the ubiquitous return of the Chinese and the Russians from last season. That and the tortured damsel in distress, drove the show over the shark. The fact that they sought to
make Jack Bauer, the man who's lost his wife, his family his daughter, and ultimately his soul do
penance, indicate how clueless they are about what makes the show work.

Posted by: narciso at February 4, 2008 8:38 PM

I'm surprised that neither country has done a decent show on their Coast Guards. There is plenty of drama and heroism for years. Start with Abigail Becker and go from there.

You couldn't go better than the old USLSS motto: "You got to go out; you don't got to come back."

Semper Paratus

Posted by: Mikey at February 4, 2008 9:36 PM