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DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting in for Terry Gross.

For fans of the Fox TV series "24," waiting these final hours for the show's last episode has been a form of what its hero, Jack Bauer, has been famous for both enduring and inflicting: torture.

(Soundbite of TV show, "24")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KIEFER SUTHERLAND (Actor): (As Jack Bauer) You people are so stupid. Renee Walker was no threat to you. Her work was finished. She was done. We were out. All you had to do was leave us alone. Why couldn't you just leave us alone?

(Soundbite of screaming)

BIANCULLI: That's Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, the counterterrorist agent whose very long, very bad days are the heart of the action series "24," which ends its nine-year run tonight on Fox. Today on FRESH AIR, we get ready for the "24" finale and examine the show's impact and message by talking with executive producer Howard Gordon.

"24" was created by Robert Cochran and Joel Surnow. Howard Gordon, who previously had written and produced for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel" and "The X-Files," is one of the primary shapers of the show's content and direction, as is series star Kiefer Sutherland. I spoke with Howard Gordon last week.

Howard Gordon, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. HOWARD GORDON (Executive Producer, "24"): Thank you very much, David.

BIANCULLI: I'd like to start with last week's episode, and it featured a terrific, very tense scene in which Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland, tracks down and abducts former President Charles Logan, played by Gregory Itzin.

Bauer wants information, as usual, and he's thrown the former president up against a chain-link fence, kind of wall thing, occasionally punching him to get it from him. So here's the clip.

(Soundbite of television program, "24")

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) You're going to tell me everything I want to know.

Mr. GREGORY ITZIN (Actor): (As Charles Logan) Jack, you're making a mistake.

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) Are you going to try and pretend you're not a part of this? I found the man who killed Renee Walker: Brezhnev Repano Sakharov(ph). I got his cell phone. The last call he got was from you.

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) I know how it looks. You're got to let me explain.

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) Explain what? That you sent him to kill me? You sent him to kill me, right?

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) Yes, yes, yes.

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) Why'd you take out a hit on Renee Walker?

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) I had nothing to do with that. I was brought in after that happened.

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) Who brought you in?

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) President Taylor (unintelligible) being arrested back to the table. I called my sources in Moscow. They told me that people in their government were behind Hassan's assassination. I told the Russian delegation. I had evidence to that fact and the names of everybody involved. It was just (unintelligible).

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (As Jack Bauer) What evidence?

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) It doesn't exist. I was playing poker. It was a bluff. It worked. It kept Taylor's peace agreement on the table, but you, you were determined to screw things up.

Jack, Jack, Jack, no, no, I admit. I admit I was part of the cover-up, but I'm not part of the Russian conspiracy. I had nothing to with the terrorist attack or your friend's death. I'm not the bad guy here.

BIANCULLI: That's Gregory Itzin and Kiefer Sutherland from last week's episode. I love how good a performance Gregory gives in that. I mean, there's so much exposition he's got to get through, but he keeps ratcheting up the emotional stuff.

Mr. GORDON: Exposition is really the, that is the exact right word, and he kept it interesting and kept it, more importantly, comprehensible, obviously in the midst of that very exigent moment.

BIANCULLI: The reason why I wanted to start with this clip is not only it's really two of the really wonderful performers from the series just going toe to toe, literally, but the final point that he makes, you know, I'm not the bad guy here - this season has had even more than usual a lot of good-guy-bad-guy flip-flops, including Jack Bauer. And I wanted to start by asking you about that, if that was an intentional part of the final season.

Mr. GORDON: Very much so. Probably more so than any other season, we had an idea for this season. And often, in years past, we have aspired to have, you know, get a good beginning and understand where we're starting and just, as an act of faith, hope that we'd find our way to the end.

And this year, we had a governing idea from the very beginning, and that was that Jack would start from a place of a possible happy second chance. For the first time in a long time, Jack was actually happy. He'd forgiven himself for the things that he'd done, and - you know, imperfectly, of course, and I think honoring the complexity and the darkness of his past deeds, he still had started from a place where, okay, maybe I'll rejoin the human race.

And we added to that a very important relationship in Renee Walker, played by Annie Wersching. And we knew right away at the very beginning of the year that they would sort of complete the relationship that they began last year, that complex relationship that was really more apprentice-mentor than anything else, but that was always charged with something else and consummate it this year, and after Jack finally had that chance, take it away in true "24" fashion and ignite what you're now seeing as the last batch of episodes and taking Jack to a place that's about as dark as we've ever seen him. And he's been in some pretty dark places.

BIANCULLI: When you say consummated, it's actually literal. It's the only love scene I think that Jack Bauer had in the entire series.

Mr. GORDON: That's absolutely true. We had a post-coital moment between he and Audrey in season four when we introduced her, but that was just putting on the tie after some period of time. But yes, this was the first time. It was something we have been looking to do in the most generic way because it seemed like an interesting real-time thing to be doing, and, of course, that's a whole other story in terms of how long does it take Jack to do it, and, you know -anyway.

BIANCULLI: Well, how long did it take you - I mean, there are a dozen executive producers, it seems, on this series...

Mr. GORDON: Yes.

BIANCULLI: ...including Kiefer Sutherland. So when you're talking about what's going to happen to that character the next year, there's a big vote in the room, in the executive producers. I'm wondering how you make the important decisions with such a sizable democracy, and when and why you decided this would be the final year for "24."

Mr. GORDON: Well, to answer the first question, there are a lot of people who are - who have the executive producer title, but mine is really the only one that counts, frankly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GORDON: It's - I mean, when I say counts, I shouldn't say that. It's a fairly democratic procedure, but I'd say the democracy is they have 49 percent of the vote, and I get 51.

BIANCULLI: Okay.

Mr. GORDON: So, generally, when there were real decisions to be made, by and large, those decisions were consensus ones, I'm happy to report. But occasionally, of course, there is a deadlock, and you have to keep Monday from bumping into Tuesday, and then I got to cast that vote.

That said, Kiefer really is the other one who had veto power, I should say, and his was the last hurdle or the last opinion and really, arguably, the one I was most interested in. I mean, including my colleagues, including the network and the studio, Kiefer really was a partner for me, particularly in these very big moments and in the character's evolution. And it was really because he is - he was not a titular executive producer. He was a very, very active producer, and he's a really smart guy, and he understands this character in a way that sometimes even I didn't.

BIANCULLI: "24" writer and executive producer Howard Gordon, in a conversation recorded last week. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: I'm speaking with Howard Gordon, writer and executive producer of the Fox series "24," which ends its nine-year run tonight.

The thing about this season, as it's getting to the end, is that Jack, because he's so traumatized by what happened to Renee, the FBI agent with whom he had recently fallen in love, that he's on this revenge quest that's really dark. I mean, even by "24" standards, what he's doing and what's being shown on television is pretty surprising.

Here's the way President Logan's assistant, speaking by phone to his boss, describes Jack Bauer's recent behavior. Reed Diamond plays the assistant, Jason Pillar, and Gregory Itzin once again plays the former President Logan.

(Soundbite of television program, "24")

Mr. REED DIAMOND (Actor): (As Jason Pillar) The story's going to come out.

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) No, not necessarily. We still might be able to manage this.

Mr. DIAMOND: (As Jason Pillar) Look, sir, I know you've told me that you're committed to seeing this through, but you can still extricate yourself from this mess. There's no evidence of your involvement yet. You can still delay the press announcement.

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) It's too late for that, Jason. The White House press secretary just announced my role in the peace process. There is no turning back.

Mr. DIAMOND: (As Jason Pillar) Then there's something else you should know. Bauer didn't just kill Pavel. He butchered him. He beat him savagely, and then he eviscerated him. I don't think Bauer's just looking to expose the Russians' involvement in the plot against Hassan. This guy's out for blood.

Mr. ITZIN: (As Charles Logan) Then you'd better find him and stop him, hadn't you?

Mr. DIAMOND: (As Jason Pillar) Yes, Sir.

BIANCULLI: That's Reed Diamond and Gregory Itzin in a scene from last week's "24." I think about "The Sopranos," you know, that first-season episode where Tony was on a college visitation field trip with his daughter and found a stool pigeon and killed him, and as viewers, we were all meant to go whoa, you know, I'm rooting for this guy?

Mr. GORDON: Right.

BIANCULLI: And I'm wondering if that's the intent with these final hours of "24," that we've rooted for Jack this entire time, but is he going too far? I mean, or are we supposed to ask that question?

Mr. GORDON: That's a great, great question. This was a source of tremendous, tremendous debate on the staff. It was interesting because there was no clear consensus as we went down this particular path. There's obviously a lot of complex feelings about it.

On one hand, is Jack justified? But, of course, the way he's prosecuting this is clearly brutal and violent and in the red zone of some, you know, moral gauge.

And I think it's important to look at - I'll tell you, anyway, the way we justify it or what we meant to do. I think we meant to be confused and conflicted about this character - who, by the way, has been a hero who, you know, has generated some controversy and who, as the years have gone on, has gotten progressively darker and progressively more complex in terms of his, you know, morality and architecture.

And I think here, his moral compass is - there's a question. There is a question, and that really is - and you have to look at this other - at what really has brought him to this moment. It's not merely Renee's murder. It's the fact that this other pillar of justice, Allison Taylor, the president, who even had her own daughter...

BIANCULLI: Played by Cherry Jones, whose performance is - yeah, wow.

Mr. GORDON: Magnificent. I mean, she is - we are so blessed with these phenomenal actors, and that really is one of the great treats, to see Greg Itzin and Cherry Jones and Kiefer Sutherland play together.

But, in this case, Cherry Jones, Allison Taylor, for reasons that I think we have earned, has come to this moment, this peace agreement, which she believes is a greater good and for which she is able to suppress justice. And the collateral damage of that justice happens to be Jack's beloved, and it's really the deprivation of that chance.

I believe had Jack - I think we all believe - had Jack been given proper recourse, had President Taylor, in that moment, come to what was the right choice, come clean, let the public, let the world know what's happened, and this peace will happen in its time. When this beacon, this pillar of law and order of the rule of law betrays Jack, all bets are off.

BIANCULLI: Now, these questions bring to mind years and years now, "24" has been at the center of a media debate on torture, and even more so as the government struggled to define it, and it became a political issue and an election issue.

And for a while, there were some people that were saying that "24" was actually more conservative rather than more liberal, and you've got all of these things going on throughout the series.

If you're having these debates among your own staffers and your own producers and writers about how to go and how far to go, what does that say about how the show itself has struggled to deal with this question over the years?

Mr. GORDON: Well, I will say for one thing, we have struggled. To say that we haven't or that we have been some de facto or mouthpiece for some political point of view is - I mean, it's not only specious, it's - I mean, I promise you, it is insane. And any fly on the wall or anyone who's been there would tell you the same.

So, I mean, look, the show is a show for one thing. It is a - it's a thriller in the vein of, you know, "The Bourne Identity" or "Rambo" or "Dirty Harry." And, you know, and the hero finds the bad guy and shakes out of him where the bomb is. And again, the real-time scenario lent itself in particular to that.

And frankly, for the first five years, no one - I don't think you could find a single article or op-ed piece that used the word torture or that even described that this was somehow morally repugnant or corrosive or anything.

I think what happened was Abu Ghraib happened and Guantanamo happened. I think the show certain benefited from some kind of post-9/11 wish fulfillment. You had a guy who cut to the chase, who did whatever was necessary, and there was some, you know, some - again, wish fulfillment involved. I do think that the show experienced some of the blowback.

Obviously, we were being watched and listened to, and I don't think you can stick your head in the sand and say we're just a TV show, get over it. We did understand that the climate had changed, that the issue - because of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib - changed.

The world had changed since the show first began, and it put us into a conundrum, honestly. At the end of season six, where Jack had been acting a certain way, we had a choice where either we renounce the series as having - we admit we're a bunch of torture-mongering, morally corrosive torture pornographers, or we find a way of confronting this issue and this changed world that we're in. And, in a strange way, it gave us fodder for the seventh season, where Jack actually is on trial for many of the same things that the show itself seemed to stand trial for.

And we created the character of Allison Taylor specifically as a pollster, as someone who was a thoughtful, credible, strong and unwavering - had a strong point of view about this very thing, torture, and under no circumstances does she ever allow it - up to and including allowing it as a way of preempting what turned out to be an attack on the White House itself.

BIANCULLI: Did you go to get any advice from interrogation experts early on?

Mr. GORDON: We didn't seek any advice, but advice was offered to us after the torture issue became an issue. In subsequent seasons, we did sit down with a number of people who were - you know, I can't remember their names, but one of them was the person whose investigation and interrogation led to the arrest of Saddam Hussein.

We did talk to some interrogators, again, in the aftermath of the controversy. We sat down with some real interrogators from the military, and they gave us scenarios which were, you know, effective interrogation techniques.

The problem with them, as dramatically interesting as they were, is that they occurred in real life over the course of days and weeks, and they were trust-building and psychological, you know, things.

BIANCULLI: Right. Mm-hmm.

Mr. GORDON: And that's where, once again, we were hamstrung by the notion of real time. Jack has to get on with it. He doesn't have that luxury. And we, unfortunately, didn't either, to use some of those scenarios that the interrogators provided us.

BIANCULLI: Do you think that that dramatic need actually may have influenced the way some viewers thought about torture or its effectiveness?

Mr. GORDON: I certainly hope not. I really do. And I really have to say I give credit to our fans and to anybody who watches the show to effectively distinguish between reality and a television show. And any efforts we could make to disabuse those people who might conflate reality with, you know, this television show, I hope we made - and any opportunity to say that, we did. This is - and so did Kiefer. This is a television show.

So I think for anybody to confuse that with how things might be done - up to and including the people in the field. I mean, one of the contentions by some people was that we were affecting people in the field. And my response was, then, if that's the case, let's disabuse them. Let's become part of their training. And I actually participated in a West Point training film and a documentary called "Primetime Torture" with Human Rights First.

So I hope that that - the few people who may have been influenced and took "24" as some kind of primer - which I, you know, I find really questionable. It's one of those things where I think it's an age-old debate: Does movie violence beget real-life violence? I know there is a correlation, and I hope that - I hope it hasn't, is really the short answer to the question.

BIANCULLI: Well, you know, when you have the torture issue, which changes as news comes in from Guantanamo and everywhere else, the other thing you have with "24" is sometimes you're ahead of the curve. And this goes back to I remember seeing the series pilot before it was on the air, and there was a scene in the pilot in which a terrorist, you know, parachutes out of a passenger airline, leaves a bomb behind. It gets detonated, and this is just a couple of months before 9/11.

And what do you remember about the reaction then both at the network and in your own inner circle? I know that you edited the explosion scene.

Mr. GORDON: Right. The plane exploded more graphically on camera, and we - I think we eliminated that cut entirely, and it played a lot more, you know, indirectly. But I think the conventional wisdom then was - aside from obviously being stunned, as everybody else in the world was and everyone in this country - was that this was not - it was not a show that would play well in the aftermath of that, those terrible events, and that in fact, you know, the conventional wisdom was then the networks would respond with comedies and blue-sky shows.

And it turned out to be quite the opposite, that the show wound up having a unique kind of resonance and relevance because of what had happened, and that caught us all by surprise.

But certainly, in the immediate aftermath, we thought wow, we're done. You know, this will never - I mean, maybe they'll air it, but people won't want to see it.

BIANCULLI: "24" executive producer and writer Howard Gordon. The final two hours of "24" are showing tonight on Fox. We'll continue our conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. Im David Bianculli, FRESH AIRs TV critic, in for Terry Gross.

We're talking with Howard Gordon, writer and executive producer of the Fox series "24," which ends its nine year run tonight with a two hour series finale.

Before we pick up our conversation, lets listen to a pair of quick clips from the show's second season, featuring some of its memorable characters. These include Nina Myers played by Sarah Clarke, who had killed Jack Bauers wife the season before, and President David Palmer played by Dennis Haysbert, whose assassination attempt Jack had foiled.

In season two, the new threat was a nuclear device hidden somewhere in Los Angeles. And Nina Myers, who knows where its hidden, has Jack Bauer at gunpoint as she calls the White House to broker a very unusual deal.

(Soundbite of TV series, "24")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JUDE CICCOLELLA (Actor): (as Mike Novick) Miss Myer, Mike Novick. I'm the presidents chief of staff.

Ms. SARAH CLARKE (Actress): (as Nina Myers) I asked to speak with the president.

Mr. CICCOLELLA: (as Mike Novick) Hes not available.

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) Do you want to stop this nuclear bomb or not?

Mr. CICCOLELLA: (as Mike Novick) Of course we do.

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) Then put the president on.

Mr. CICCOLELLA: (as Mike Novick) I'm authorized to negotiate on his behalf.

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) What I want is non-negotiable.

Mr. CICCOLELLA: (as Mike Novick) What do you want?

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) Ill tell you where the bomb is in exchange for immunity.

Mr. CICCOLELLA: (as Mike Novick) The presidents already granted you a total pardon.

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) But, this is a crime I haven't committed yet.

Mr. CICCOLELLA: (as Mike Novick) What crime?

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) The murder of Jack Bauer.

BIANCULLI: After a quick consultation with the team at CTU, President Palmer gets on the phone with Jack Bauer still at gunpoint but listening on speaker phone.

(Soundbite of TV series, "24")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DENNIS HAYSBERT (Actor): (as President David Palmer) Miss Myers, this is President Palmer.

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) I'm listening.

Mr. HAYSBERT: (as President David Palmer) Is Jack Bauer there?

Mr. KIEFER SUTHERLAND (Actor): (as Jack Bauer) Yes, Mr. President, I'm here too.

Mr. HAYSBERT: (as President David Palmer) Miss Myers, if the information you provide culminates in the successful interception of the nuclear device, you will get everything you asked for. You'll be pardoned, in advance, for the murder of Jack Bauer.

Ms. CLARKE: (as Nina Myers) I can live with that.

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (as Jack Bauer) Start talking, Nina.

BIANCULLI: I asked Howard Gordon about the character of President Palmer, who, for a show so rooted in minute by minute real time, certainly seemed to be ahead of his time.

Another thing that seems very prescient about that initial season was you cast Dennis Haysbert as black president of the United States, President Palmer. So how influential do you think that was - truly?

Mr. GORDON: Well, truly I think, you know, the only one who deserves credit for Barack Obama's election is Barack Obama. But what I do think is that what it represented and this is Joel and Bob, you know, I was not on the pilot so I have to, you know, really, you know, I can compliment their great choice in Dennis and in choosing to have a black president rather than just another white guy with silver hair, to me represented what was wonderful and uniquely American about, you know, the sort of best of America. That America that condones slavery as recently as a century and a quarter ago was able to have a black man at its helm at the chief executive position. That, to me, made him a more valuable target to protect. And do I think it honestly, I think we deserve as much credit for Barack Obama as we do blame for Guantanamo on Abu Ghraib. So thats kind of my...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GORDON: I think it certainly didnt, it probably couldnt have hurt to put it out there and to create a character who was so credible and so beloved. And, you know, again having gone in public many places with Dennis Haysbert, I know hes actually been enlisted to run in real life for any number of political offices and I think he won the seat for Allstate.

BIANCULLI: This is a couple of seasons later. We have a different president but it actually links back to President Palmer and this is a scene when the Secretary of Defense, James Heller whos played by William Devane, another great actor you pulled in there...

Mr. GORDON: Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: ...claims to have heard a tape that implicates President Charles Logan, Gregory and you can tell I love his performance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: In the assassination of former President Palmer and he comes to confront Logan about his crimes. And these crimes also involve collusion with petroleum interest in Central Asia and another.

Mr. GORDON: (Unintelligible). I know.

BIANCULLI: Yeah, but its another prescient plot line, you know, about rising oil prices and it just amazes me to go back a couple of years after these shows were on the air and see whats in them now. So heres President Logan when he was president being challenged by the Secretary of Defense James Heller.

(Soundbite of movie "24")

Mr. GREGORY ITZIN (Actor): (as President Charles Logan) I hope this was important.

Mr. WILLIAM DEVANE (Actor): (as James Heller) I know what you did. I know what youre doing and I'm here to put an end to it.

Mr. ITZIN: (as President Charles Logan) You have to be a little more specific.

Mr. DEVANE: (as James Heller) You are responsible for the murder of David Palmer.

Mr. ITZIN: (as President Charles Logan) That's outrageous.

Mr. DEVANE: (as James Heller) I heard a recording. A conversation between you and a man named Christopher Henderson. When Palmer found out about your insane plan, Henderson had him killed and you let it happen.

Mr. ITZIN: (as President Charles Logan) Where is this recording?

Mr. DEVANE: (as James Heller) Its in a safe place.

Mr. ITZIN: (as President Charles Logan) I would like to hear it.

Mr. DEVANE: (as James Heller) Why? You know exactly what you said and so do I. Its burnt into my memory.

Mr. ITZIN: (as President Charles Logan) How dare you stand there and judge me. You have no idea. Until you sit in my chair, you dont know what the hell youre talking about.

Mr. DEVANE: (as James Heller) Your chair is not a throne, Charles.

Mr. ITZIN: (as President Charles Logan) I'm protecting the interests of our country.

Mr. DEVANE: (as James Heller) You mean oil.

Mr. ITZIN: (as President Charles Logan) Yes. Yes. This country needs energy more than you or anybody in this gridlocked government cares to admit. Well see how you judge me when the cost of oil goes up over $100 a barrel and the people who put me in office can't afford to heat their homes or run their cars.

Mr. DEVANE: (as James Heller) And you think that justifies the blood on your hands?

BIANCULLI: Thats William Devane and Greggory Itzin in a previous season of "24."

These things really hold up really well on the radio, dont they?

Mr. GORDON: They really do.

BIANCULLI: The structure of "24" - it didnt really have to revolve around the White House, certainly not to the extent that it does season after season. But youve clearly made that choice and youre interested in power at that level. Why?

Mr. GORDON: You know, its one of the tropes of the thriller. I think for one thing, the real time aspect required cutaways, so we knew we needed other stories to be happening. And by the third season, when Secretary Heller actually it was the first time we didnt start at the White House. We had a secretary of defense and his daughter, who was Jacks romantic interest, we were very scrupulously saying we're done with the presidency, how we really can't do this and Secretary Heller was the proxy or was as high as we went for a time before we went back to President Palmer came in to help President Logan, if youll recall. Thats where we re-launched that character. So it came very very challenging and we were concerned about it, frankly.

But every time we would try - and again, I tell you, we gave it a really strong try to... We looked at city government, we looked at purely staying away from it. But the stakes always morphed into these - because of the nature of the threats and the real time threats, we just found ourselves going there. And that included this year. President Taylor really was going to be a supporting part where we tried to make it unique to the UN.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm.

Mr. GORDON: And then you'll find theres a reason why in most every thriller, whether its Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn, you'll find that the president is involved. The trick is actually keeping it fresh and trying to find new stories and territory that you haven't mined before. But its like Shakespeare did, you know, lots of kings and princes for the similar reasons, because the stakes are so large.

BIANCULLI: Can you talk about the elastic logistics as you are writing this? I mean, if I understand it, most seasons are sort of written in thirds and you take a big breath and then you...

Mr. GORDON: You know, that's sort of a yeah, the elastic is right. I would call it more of an improvisation. Again, the nature of the show is that we shot 24 episodes a year, unlike say, "Sopranos" or some of the other cable shows that are lucky enough to have to do 10 or 12; we have to do 24 of them. So we would finish typically a season at the end of May and we would be in preproduction by the middle of June. And so that its sort of an impossible task frankly, especially for serialized drama. You cannot possibly map out 24 episodes in any detail. And you needed to keep it, as you say, elastic because sometimes a story we would think heres an idea and that'll be maybe somewhere mid-season and it turned out to be episode two.

So it was this really kind of mosaic accretion of stories that, you know, we would tell as a group and that, I think is what gave it some of its energy, the not knowing where we were going with the show, painting ourselves into corners and demanding ingenious and sometimes absurd, admittedly, solutions to those difficult problems like amnesia or, you know, a cougar in the woods. But sometimes it was just what you had to do to keep one hour from bumping into the next. But we did have a motto very early on, that Joel and Bob coined which was not good, never boring and that we tried to live...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GORDON: ...and die by that particular motto.

BIANCULLI: Well, I always wondered why you didnt end - go to a commercial break just at one point. You had so many years to do this where Jack Bauer on the way to somewhere, you know, some sense of urgency again where you'll say okay, just a second, and go into the bathroom and the camera would stay behind outside the door. You just have a few seconds where nothing happened and then you would hear ka-ching(ph), ka-ching and go to commercial. I mean...

Mr. GORDON: That film exists. It does exist. We did shoot it. We did try it. It...

BIANCULLI: Really?

Mr. GORDON: Yeah. Yeah. Because it was a question that was asked so often: why doesnt Jack eat? And why doesnt he pee?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GORDON: And I always said he does. He just it when youre not looking or while we're off on some presidential storyline or during the commercial like the rest of us. I dont know. I'd love to unearth it somewhere. I'm sure someone has it somewhere.

BIANCULLI: Howard Gordon, thanks so much for being on FRESH AIR.

Mr. GORDON: Well, thank you so much for having me.

BIANCULLI: Howard Gordon, writer and executive producer of the Fox series "24." Tonight the show presents its final two episodes of the season and the series.

Coming up, I review a series that ended its run last night. ABCs "Lost."

This is FRESH AIR.

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