Dawn of a New Day
From "24", Jan/Feb 2006
Day 5 of the hit Fox television show "24" promises another season of tension and unexpected twists and turns.
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Now the challenge revolves around keeping the show fresh. "This will never get to the level of a 'CSI' because it's just not a comfortable show that you come home [to] at the end of the day, and it makes you feel good," says Surnow. "It's an investment...that runs counter to what people have always thought TV should be. I would have loved to know what 'The Sopranos' would have done on a major network. I think they would have bumped up against the same ceiling we did. It's just not for everyone.
"I would be thrilled if we maintained a double-digit rating this year," adds Surnow. "But I also believe it is a format that can sustain itself, like a 'Law & Order' format. We all feel this is a great format. It's new. It cranks up the intensity for an action show, and gives the audience something different. But every year, we ask ourselves those questions: how much more can you do? We don't want to start repeating ourselves."
But for now, Surnow and the other creative minds behind the show are just happy to revel in the success of a hit TV show.
"It's a journeyman's career working in television," says Surnow, still drawing on his cigar. "If this hadn't happened, I would have been happy because I had worked for 20 years. The name of the game is working year in and year out. I'm still of that mind-set. I'm happy to have a job."
Surnow ran down the statistics on how many television shows make it from the concept stage to actually being aired. He estimates that at the beginning of every development season, thousands of ideas are presented to the five major networks, and of those, maybe 200 are green-lighted for development, and about 40 are made into pilots. "At that point, in this business, you've won the game," says Surnow. "You've got $3 or $4 million to make a pilot. Before this, I had written 11 pilots and not one of them went to film." But out of the 40-odd pilots, Surnow says, only about 10 make it to air, and of the 10 or so that debuted five years ago with "24," the only one still being broadcast is "Alias," which is in its final season. "So, it's like winning the lottery," he says.
The same can probably be said for the actors and actresses on the show. The exposure of being on a critically acclaimed television series, which is also a commercial success, brings attention to the actors.
Sutherland is unequivocal that the success of "24" has gotten his career back on a track that he is excited about. "I've been very lucky in an industry that is giving actors less and less room to move," he says. "I've been given a lot of latitude, and with '24' as successful as it is, opportunities that I didn't have access to, I have now. That's good." Later this year, Sutherland will co-star with Michael Douglas in a spy-thriller film called The Sentinel.
Mary Lynn Rajskub, the actress who plays Chloe, is now in her third season on "24," as a wonky computer analyst that works in the CTU offices. From her background as a stand-up comedian, she couldn't fathom why she was being asked to join the show. But she loves it, regardless. "People recognize me more, and in the industry, now people realize I can do drama," she says. "I didn't realize that I was tied into sitcoms. But this has broadened my horizons. And it's so much fun being here."
Gregory Itzen, who plays Charles Logan, the vice president who stepped into the Oval office in Day 4, says, "This is the happiest I've ever been on a set, because they give you the freedom to do what you want to do." The 25-year Hollywood veteran adds, "Since I'm just beginning to swim in this pool, and I don't know what else is out there...I want to be this character for a while. I don't really want to be anywhere else right now."
The "let's see where this goes" mentality pervades the entire show. Surnow thinks there is still a lot of upside, and he has a group of actors, writers, producers and directors who admit that the last thing they want to do is leave the show.
"We are the only show that is dealing constantly with terrorism in a heroic way. But it has a touch of reality in it, too. Here, though, the good guys are getting the terrorists."