RUSH: I’m just so happy to have these two guys in the studio with us today: Joel Surnow, the creator and executive producer of “24”, and Howard Gordon, the executive producer and the head writer for the series this year. The series is — you’ve finished writing it. It’s in the can. How much is left to shoot?
SURNOW: We have another month to shoot. We’re shooting episodes 23 and 24 starting next week, so the big finale is next week.
RUSH: It’s fascinating. I got to go out and visit your set last year, and I watched. In fact, I was back there last summer, too, and you had this season storyboarded but you do not know from the day you start shooting it how it’s going to end, right?
GORDON: No. We’re happy to know where we’re going to start.
GORDON: That’s good enough for us.
RUSH: And you work three weeks ahead?
GORDON: We work about three weeks ahead at a time. It’s very much on the fly and that’s kind of what keeps it interesting for us, kind of like your show.
GORDON: You never know where it’s going.
RUSH: Yeah, nothing is scripted here. So one of the questions I always get from people, they watch your show and they’ll see a president portrayed a certain way or a chief of staff or a character, and I am always asked, since they know that I’m close buddies with you, “Are they ripping Bush here?” Do you guys bounce off current political events? Are you sending messages, subliminal or otherwise, with your scripts?
SURNOW: Specifically, we don’t model anybody after any current politicians. We do follow the post-9/11 world, and our show has become part of that world. But in terms of specifically taking shots at anybody, we have not done that.
GORDON: And, Gregory Itzin, the current president, bears a genetic resemblance to Nixon —
GORDON: — and it begins and ends there.
RUSH: Well, did you do it on purpose or you just liked the actor when he auditioned?
GORDON: He’s a fantastic actor.
SURNOW: No, it had nothing to do that.
RUSH: I guess it does take talent to act like that big a wimp because I don’t know anybody who actually is.
SURNOW: We do. (Laughter.)
RUSH: Where did this idea come from? I know, Joel, you’ve been in television writing all your life. You worked on Miami Vice. Where did this idea come from and where did you meet Howard?
SURNOW: The idea, I originally had the idea of doing a show in real time. Most TV seasons are 22 episodes. I thought, “What if you do two more and make them one hour in a day, 24 hours, in a 24 episode season?” I called my partner, one of my friends who I write with, Robert Cochran, and we originally bandied about the idea and thought, what if you do 24 hours in the day of a wedding and make it a romantic comedy, and then we scrapped that idea. We thought, “The whole power of doing real time is make it a race against time, have the stakes be really high,” and so then we sort of started coming up with the idea of a counter terrorist unit, et cetera, et cetera. Once the show got picked up for 13 episodes, we needed to find a head writer and writing staff.
RUSH: What year was this?
SURNOW: This was 2001.
SURNOW: Pre-9/11. And Howard had been at the Fox lot. He had done four years. He was sort of the main writing engine behind the first four years of X-Files, and you can’t find a better writer than that, and we met for hours, and we just instantly had a great chemistry. So Bob, Howard and myself became sort of story engine of that first season.
RUSH: Every season builds on the next, but they’re not interconnected. You can watch seasons independently on DVD. One of the things that I tell people that most amazes me is your show is five years old, and about that time writers wear out, energy just goes. You’ve sapped your creativity. You guys keep setting new plateaus, new expectations. You elevate them for everybody else and you meet and surpass the audience expectations. Everybody that I talked to that has watched the DVDs thinks every season is better than the previous, and nothing wrong with the previous seasons. It just keeps getting better. How many people on the writing staff and how many hours a day are you doing this?
GORDON: We’re doing it kind of 24/7 whether we’re actually at the office or not. The story lives with all of us and we come in… Well, to answer your first point, we just want to keep ourselves interested in the plot, otherwise we couldn’t do this kind of work unless we were interested in writing it, and if we like what we’re writing we have to assume our audience is going to like what they’re watching, and that’s our litmus test — and we love the show. We’re having a great time and we just want to keep it going.
RUSH: How about your budgets every year? They give you more money to produce it every year, significantly?
SURNOW: We do. It increases. There are built-in increases. We have about 350 people working on the show, and they all get incremental raises. Howard was nice enough to defer his salary for the first five years.
SURNOW: We’re going to give him a big balloon payment next season.
GORDON: There will be a fund-raiser shortly.
RUSH: I didn’t mean that personally. The reason I ask is, we’re watching Monday night’s episode yesterday afternoon, and it was loaded with things that cost a lot of money to produce. You told me it took seven days to shoot Monday’s episode with all of that stuff in it.
SURNOW: It’s surprising. It’s in the realm of a budget for a normal hour television, or is not any more expensive than an hour. It could be even less expensive than an hour of Desperate Housewives for all we know. I mean, it’s really a remarkable thing. It’s really a testament to our production crew, our producer, and it’s very efficient, and pretty reasonable, by TV standards.
RUSH: Well, it’s amazing, because you have so many — you have more plot twists in one episode than most seasons of a show have in their entire run, and it’s just incredible. I’ve got a couple people that want to ask some questions before the break. Put your headphones on. We’ll go to Romeoville, Illinois and Cory. You’re talking to Joel Surnow.
CALLER: Hello. This is Cory.
SURNOW: Hi, Cory.
CALLER: Nice to meet you guys. Love the show. It’s the best show I’ve ever seen on TV, and —
SURNOW: We can’t disagree.
CALLER: I wanted to say that. I wanted to ask why you guys: I’ve been following the show for years. Michelle and Tony were a couple of my favorite characters. Any particular reason why they were all of a sudden, uh, completely out of the picture?
RUSH: Okay, I get it. Why do you kill off all the stars?
SURNOW: Well, the premise of the show is that we are fighting a war on terror, and there are casualties in the war, and to make it feel real, we have to have people that we’ve actually cared about die or else it wouldn’t feel real. It wouldn’t. We fundamentally see the show as part drama, part tragedy, and it breaks our hearts to lose some of these wonderful actors that we’ve had along the way, Xander Berkeley, who played George Mason the second season, Penny Johnson who was Sherry Palmer. This year Edgar, Tony. These are wonderful actors and friends, but the story is the story. We have to service that and make it feel like something that is going to have an impact.
RUSH: And they all know when they sign on it can happen?
RUSH: Do they lobby you if they find they’re going to get written out? Do they lobby? Can they change your mind? You’re the head writer. Can they talk you out of it?
GORDON: I’ve been talked out of a couple of deaths. I have been and —
RUSH: Will you tell us who you saved?
GORDON: Well, I’ll tell you most recently —
SURNOW: Ah, this is a first.
GORDON: — is Carlos Bernard who played Tony has been dead on the page three different times.
RUSH: (laughs) Is that right?
GORDON: And he’d come up and we think about it and realized it wasn’t time for his character to leave just yet so he’s really had nine lives but most recently Peter Weller. Peter Weller was supposed to actually have been the one to die in the chair at CTU in episode 13, and one day over a couple of cigars he — he (laughing).
RUSH: I tell you, a cigar can bridge a gap and save a guy’s life now.
SURNOW: It really can. Cigars do save lives.
RUSH: (laughing) On “24”. Cheryl in Wheeling, West Virginia, you’re talking to Howard Gordon and Joel Surnow.
CALLER: Hello, love the show. I’d like to know why you make Kim so hateful toward her father. Kim, the daughter.
SURNOW: Well, Kim’s relationship with her father is pretty complicated, and I don’t know if she’s as hateful toward her father as she is toward the writers but she finds herself in a position where she thinks of her father as a bad-luck person in her life. I mean, she probably blames the death of her mother on her dad.
SURNOW: Her dad, you know, quote, unquote, “died” and didn’t tell her about it for 18 months, and she had to mourn him. So she’s got lots of pent-up issues, and we didn’t want to make that a facile, easy relationship. You know, so she did come off somewhat, uh… I wouldn’t call it petulant, but just sort of like she’s holding a lot of anger toward him.
RUSH: Eh, she’s a teenaged girl!
RUSH: Let me try a theory at this with them, Cheryl. We’re watching the show on Wednesday afternoon and here we are in the middle… “The Centox is about to be released through the natural gas pipeline, all hell is about to break loose,” and Jack pauses to give a nice, big wet kiss to Audrey, and Joel looks at me and says, “We’ve got to keep the women.”
RUSH: And I said, “I know. You cover all the demographics in this show. You’ve got romance in the middle of terrorism,” but it’s a business. You’re trying to get all demographics. You want young people so you’ve got Kim in there acting like she does. That’s what so amazing about this. You have to factor all these things in. It’s a business. It’s your creative life; you’re having fun doing it, but there are business requirements that you have to meet if you want to continue to grow the audience which you have. Is that not brilliant or what, for me to understand that?
SURNOW: Way, way off. You’re way, way off. (All laughing.) Let Howard explain the emotional underpinning of the show.
GORDON: Yeah, you have to have somebody to — Jack has got to have an emotional context. He does. We don’t do this just to pander to our audience. Rush, how dare you say something like that?
RUSH: Well… (All laughing.) This stuff doesn’t go on in offices, people making out like that, I’ve never seen that. (Laughing.)
GORDON: It is true, it is true, I mean —
RUSH: I didn’t mean pander.
GORDON: I know you didn’t. But the truth is Jack has got — he’s this flesh-and-blood person in our minds, anyway, and for him to go through all this action, just blowing up a bunch of gas stations to save the rest of us is a lot less meaningful than if he has something to live for.
GORDON: Why is he a person?
GORDON: Why is he living on this earth?
SURNOW: There you go.
RUSH: These are serious guys, folks.
RUSH: Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon from “24” are here. We’ve got about eight or nine more minutes with them. Back to the phones: Keith in Orlando, Florida, great to have you with us.
CALLER: Hey, Rush, it’s a distinct pleasure and honor. Hey, guys, I love the show but I have two questions. One: Why is CTO so leaky? You’ve got more spies in there than you can count, and two: Why have you sort of given a break to the Islamic terrorists this year?
SURNOW: Well, the first question is, why is CTU a little porous this year?
RUSH: So easy to infiltrate. The bad guys seem to get in there with ease.
SURNOW: Howard, why is that? (All laughing.)
GORDON: Well, because this is actually an intelligence gathering bunker somewhere in LA. It’s a moderate level security — only level two security facility. If it were level three it would be a lot more difficult to get through.
GORDON: But —
RUSH: You know, I don’t think it’s that unusual. The Pentagon leaks all day long to the New York Times. The state department leaks all day to the Washington Post. I mean, nothing is secure. We can’t secure the ports.
RUSH: We can’t secure the southern border.
RUSH: We can’t secure CTU!
GORDON: And, you know what? Even more importantly if CTU were secure we wouldn’t have an episode. (All laughing) There you go. That’s the answer.
RUSH: That’s the answer. Dave in Chicago, you’re on with Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon of “24”.
CALLER: Good afternoon, guys. Listen, I love the show. I wanted to ask real quick: Whenever one of the major characters dies, the clock at the end is silent, and I just think that’s beautifully effective and I wanted to know who came up with that idea.
SURNOW: That idea actually came to us from one of our editors at the end of — I think it was the show in season three where Jack had to kill Ryan Chappelle in cold blood as part of a deal they were making with the head terrorist in that season and it was such a powerful episode and the show ended with Jack killing Chappelle, who was a federal worker, and the show went to black and he didn’t have the clink, clink, clink at the end and it was so powerful we thought we would use it and it’s sort of became a staple of the show.
RUSH: It’s something of a signature. Okay. Kathy in Peoria, Illinois, you’re on with Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon of “24”.
CALLER: Dittos, Rush, and hi, everybody. I wonder if President Logan is going to grow a spine. I’m surprised he can sit in a chair.
RUSH: Thanks, Kathy, very much. That’s a great question.
SURNOW: Howard, well… You should talk about that. Um… Is Logan going to grow a spine? I will tell you that you have not seen the full, uh…
RUSH: This is a tough one for them, folks. They don’t want to give anything away. It’s tough.
SURNOW: Logan is an important part of the story this year. Let me just say that there are about three or four episodes in every season where something really revelatory happens and the whole story changes by 45 degrees.
RUSH: Hell, that happens four times an episode!
SURNOW: But next week’s episode, which is next Monday night which is our 16th episode of the season is one of those really vital episodes and will really sort of inform the whole Logan story of the season, and… I would say that he’s not without a spine. He’s just —
GORDON: I would just say, “Watch next week and let’s have this conversation then.”
RUSH: All right. Let me ask you a question about the character, not the future, because a lot of people are curious about it. You talk about you have to have Jack have something to live for so you have some reality.
RUSH: And when it comes to a character like Logan I think a lot of viewers are curious. They don’t know presidents intimately but they can’t imagine ever having had a president that’s actually that way. We may have and don’t know it.
RUSH: So where do you get in your creative juice the idea to make a character out of a president that is that…
GORDON: Well, he was created in some ways out of the rib of David Palmer. I mean, David Palmer who was this stolid, wonderfully morally grounded character and we invented a president last year at the tail end of the year to inherit or rise to the tragedy of the President Keeler’s downed Air Force One situation. We needed a president who wasn’t up to the task, so he was born out of that — out of that —
SURNOW: He’s the anti-Palmer in a way.
GORDON: Yeah, really. But his character, we love the actor, loved the character, and we’ve gotten to know him a little bit better.
SURNOW: And to a certain agree, Greg Itzin played the character of Logan helped create this character. I mean he brought mannerisms and characteristics to his performance that we began to write to.
RUSH: Great. Here’s Bill in Albuquerque, New Mexico, you’re on with Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon of “24”.
CALLER: Hey, Rush. Mega Air Force dittos to you.
RUSH: Thank you, sir.
CALLER: Guys, great show. My question for you is: Is there plans [sic] to the rumor that there’s a movie coming out that will start out next season?
SURNOW: That rumor is true. We want to do a “24” movie. We want to write it this year and shoot it after next season’s production, which would be next summer to air the following summer after that, so that would be 2008.
SURNOW: But, you know, we’re in the very first steps of a long, long journey on this thing, and we have to basically prove it all along the way. We have to write a great script that they’re going to want to make.
RUSH: How you going to do a movie of 90 minutes or two hours — how you going to do the concept of 24 hours?
SURNOW: Well, the thought for the movie is the whole movie would take place in a 24-hour period. It wouldn’t be a two-hour real-time period. It would be three segments of real time in the course of one day, and this way it allows us to travel more and not be grounded in Los Angeles. We want to do a much more international story for the movie.
RUSH: Ah, so you have a plot idea!
SURNOW: Oh, we do.
RUSH: Oh, great, okay. So it’s farther along than we knew. Houston, Texas and Gregg, you’re on with Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon.
CALLER: Well, it’s great to talk about one American show on another great American show.
RUSH: Thank you.
CALLER: I had a question. Do you all ever…? I mean, all the shows seem to be sequential in each season. Do you ever plan or have the idea to go and fill in-between seasons — and this would be an opportunity to bring back, you know, favorite characters who have been killed off?
SURNOW: Well, you know, it’s interesting. The “24” video game takes place between season two and season three. We do some DVD extras where we do sort of between-season story scenes that are not really full story lines, but we had originally thought of going backwards at one point in time in a season that took ten years ago in Jack Bauer’s life or five years ago but that really didn’t work out. The ancillary things are, you know, we now have comic books, video games and things like that that are mining some of that territory.
RUSH: Okay, guys, look, I know you have to run. I want to thank all of you who called with questions. They were great questions. Thanks so much for coming by here. You guys are — in your business, the entertainment business — you’re making history with your format, with your writing, production values and so forth, and I don’t know if you have time to reflect on it because you’re too busy doing it. So I wanted to pass on to you my thoughts on that and how great it is, as somebody who… I just marvel at creativity and the way you keep exceeding everybody’s expectations is profound. You’ve got a great show and we’re happy to have had you here.
SURNOW: Thank you for having us on, Rush.
RUSH: Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon from “24”.