SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains information
on critical plot developments on the third series of 24.
graduating from Princeton University in 1984, Howard Gordon
moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in writing for television.
He began a two year contract with Witt-Thomas Productions
during which he co-produced several pilots. Country Estates,
a pilot produced for ABC caught the attention of Chris Carter
who asked Gordon to join The X-Files as a supervising
producer. Since then he's worked on Buffy the Vampire
Slayer, Angel and, more recently 24, as executive
producer and writer. Darren Rea spoke to him as the third
season of 24 was due to be screened in the UK...
Rea: You've been with the production from the beginning. What
was it that originally attracted you to the show?
Gordon: I came on board right after the pilot had shot.
had actually shot my own competing pilot called Ball and
Chain, which was based on a comic book. It wasn't picked
up and I was lucky enough to be asked to work on 24,
as that had been picked up by the network. I saw the pilot
and was completely blown away by it.
felt like it could really be something special. I think even
the most pessimistic side of me thought that at the very least
it would be a noble failure.
When 24 was released there were other shows out there
that followed government backed agencies. What was it that
made 24 stand out from other shows?
There was The Agency, but nothing else really promised
real-time. The real-time element also helped. Part of the
secret that Joel [Surnow] and Bob [Cochran] came upon was
the thriller genre and the idea of introducing several stories,
so that we could cut away.
was a number of events that contributed to the show's success.
One is the split windows, which was originally a 1960s device,
but it worked phenomenally well to cover the gap in geography.
It was a great way to compress information and make it feel
really compelling. Certain scenes were covered from different
angles, so that you'd see a wide shot and a close shot of
the same scene. This compression of information added to the
heightened sense of reality.
With the terrorist threat more in the public mind, post September
11th, do you think that a lot of the appeal also stems from
an interest that there may well be an government backed agency
like CTU, and that this is quite comforting to the audience?
Absolutely. I think Jack is someone that we really hope exists.
He definitely represents someone that will skirt the law and
take civil liberties every now and then to get the job done.
We hadn't even aired when September 11th happened, so we were
afraid that the show wouldn't even be given a chance to air.
We had to make some modifications to the pilot episode.
was one graphic scene with a plane exploding, and we had to
cut away from it earlier than we had intended. We were worried
that the public, at that time, would want to see more comedies
and blue sky shows rather than something that was a little
more topical, and based around things that were happening
in the news.
think, in particular in season two, we found ourselves looking
at the Islamic terrorist problem and asking whether we should
write to it, or write away from it. But, we looked at it squarely
and decided that we couldn't do a show about counter terrorism
and not deal with this issue. But, I think we dealt with it
in a full bodied way. We also dealt with the Xenophobia that
this new, emerging problem was going to have. That's why [in
season two] we had an Islamic guy marry a blond, blue eyed,
all American girl and then twisted all expectations by having
her be the bad character while he was the innocent party.
We also introduced an intelligence agent, from some unnamed
Islamic country, who came and helped Jack Bauer. So, we felt
like we'd dealt with it even-handedly. And, of course, in
the end it was a greedy, corporate, multinational company
that wound up being behind it all.
How does working on 24 differ from working on other
shows, like Angel, where continuity is not so much
of an issue?
It's interesting. You find yourself telling one whole story.
It's like telling a long movie - it has a Dickensian quality
challenge is keeping the interest up for 24 continuous hours.
Whereas Angel, The X-Files or Buffy is
very self contained - the story has a beginning, a middle
and an end.
some ways it's more confining and in other ways it's more
liberating, because you can take a smaller amount of action
and make it the subject of the substance of one hour of 24,
whereas in those other shows you have to reinvent it every
time. I remember in The X-Files I would sometimes spend
weeks between episodes thinking: "Oh my God! What am
I going to do next?" Whereas here, on 24, you're
bound, at some level, by what came before and what you know
is coming after.
Do you find that getting the right crew is also important
and that the experience is very different for them too?
I would say that between the crew, the cast and the writing
staff, it has been - I think hands down for everybody involved
- the greatest experience of their careers. It's a very collaborative
effort. The prop master will come in and say: "Give us
script notes." It's a very democratic experience for
everyone, because of the continuity and because everybody
is so intimately involved in the deals of that continuity.
actors have this real intimate understanding of where they
are emotionally and physically, and what their wardrobe is
like, so it becomes this puzzle that we are all solving together.
Have you tended to keep the same crew together from season
There's been remarkably little turnover. I've done a lot of
shows and I've never seen so many people so proud to be working
on a project than they are on 24. And I think that
On the terrorist side. How do you go about ensuring that details
about possible terrorist threats appear as realistic as possible.
A lot of it goes to personal responsibility rather than accuracy.
Our first interest is to tell the most compelling story possible
whilst trying to avoid clichés.
CTU doesn't actually exist, we can take a lot of license with
jurisdiction and legal issues. We never pretend to be real,
and because of that we take a lot of liberties.
the second season we did several things that couldn't really
have been squeezed into such a short time frame - we mobilised
a war in 12 hours [laughs]. What happens in the course of
our 24 hours couldn't really happen in a year.
Also, we never see anyone go to the toilet.
They do! [laughs] Everybody always says that, but when we
cut away that's what's happening. Jack's taking a piss while
Palmer's on screen.
You're half way through screening season three of 24
in the US at the moment... is that right?
Yes, we're half way through airing it and we're just about
to shoot the season finale.
Is there anything you can tell us, without giving too much
away, about what is happening in season three?
The third season is much more layered than previous seasons.
It centres around bio-terrorism, but that's a bi-product of
a much more complex story.
success of the show, for me, is the emotional of Keifer's
character - who comes to realise, after two seasons (two very
bad days), that you can't do this kind of work and have a
have Tony and Michelle who have married since last year, and
Kim and, Jack's prodigy, Chase, starting to get involved.
And Jack has given up any sort of connection to humanity in
a way - he's become a junkie and everything. It really is
testing his theory that you can't have love, you have to give
that up, if you are going to do this work. I guess the part
that I like best about this season is that it comes from that
emotional place of sacrifice.
Does Kim's luck improve?
[Laughs] Yeah. How could it not? That's interesting, but she
was an actress that we adored, but it was obvious that we
were fighting [in season two] to find something to do with
her [laughs]. It became quite absurd, and we knew that, but
ultimately we have no regrets because we didn't know what
else to do with her. So, this year we put her squarely in
the action and I think she's handled herself incredibly.
This season sees Jack kill Sarah. Are you sorry to see her
go? And was that something you felt you had to do, because
it would be silly to keep having their paths cross?
Yes, absolutely. Last year I think was the organic time to
bring her back and to kill her, because she had to die. I
actually wrote the scene where Jack kills her in the second
season, but it wasn't satisfying on the page. So I had the
idea of Jack not going through with it and whispering something
in her ear, which ended up being a lot more evocative. This
year we were presented with the proper context for her end,
and took advantage of it.
Are you worried that if you kill off any more of your characters
it'll just be Jack running the whole operation?
You know what? It's ten little Indians on this show. Anyone
can go. Keifer is the first one to say: "Hey, look. If
you're done with my story, kill me." And he means it,
that's what's so funny. If it served the story, he'd be happy
Which of your roles do you prefer between producing and writing?
I much prefer producing to writing. Writing is an unfortunate
necessity for what I do [laugh]. It's lowly sitting in a room...
you know. What are you asking me for? [laughs].
terrible. You sit in a room, look at a computer and tear your
hair out - and I have very little hair. But, the satisfaction
of having written a script is probably unlike anything else.
television, fortunately, we get to do what directors get to
do in films. We are the ones who get to control the creative
direction, and what finally gets released and shown is the
writers domain. Television is a writers medium, so I suppose
it goes part and parcel with producing.
Looking back over your career, what's the one thing you're
most proud of?
I think, 24. I'm most proud of this show and I've had
more satisfaction doing this show than any other. I liked
The X-Files a lot, that had it's own satisfaction,
but I'd say 24 is the thing I'm most proud of.
If you weren't in this industry what would you be doing?
Erm... That's a great question... I guess I like to fantasise
that I'd be a novelist. That's what I thought I'd be when
I grew up, but somehow I came to television. And if I wasn't
a novelist, I'd own an antique store.
And what of the future? What are you planning next?
Actually I'm thinking about the next season of 24,
and possibly the movie. But I'm still in 24 mode, so
I don't know. Part of me is also afraid to think of something
new because I don't want to do something just for the sake
of doing it. I need to be gripped by it and I don't really
have that idea just yet.
Thank you for your time.
thanks to David Cox at DSA
Three of 24 is out to buy on DVD
from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment from 09 August 2004
season three of 24 on DVD for £34.99 (RRP: £49.99)
by clicking here
Buy season two of 24 on DVD for £32.99 (RRP:
£49.99) by clicking here
Buy season one of 24 on DVD for £30.99 (RRP:
£44.99) by clicking here