'24: Legacy' Producers Vow They "Weren't Trying to Be Inflammatory" With Controversial Opening Scene

"I like to say the series begins as if it was written by Trump, but it ends as if it were written by Hillary," executive producer and co-showrunner Manny Coto tells THR.
Ray Mickshaw/FOX

[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the first episode of 24: Legacy.]

When it comes to all things 24, timing is everything.

Of course, there's the tense ticking clock of the real-time format. But more than that, there's the established history of how the Fox thriller interacts with its present moment. All through the show's run, 24 was evoked in wider conversations about terrorism, torture, interrogation tactics and more. Indeed, the very first episode of the series in 2001 needed to be postponed several weeks due to concerns over how its final scene, featuring an airplane explosion, would play in such close proximity to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Now, with its opening scene, 24: Legacy has shown that it still has much in common with its predecessor, the absence of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) notwithstanding. The series centers on Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), an Army Ranger who returns home from war and launches into a fight for his life when ghosts from a past mission begin to emerge. Executive producers and showrunners Manny Coto and Evan Katz have said that the series' premise was inspired by the real-life operation that killed Osama bin Laden; for the purpose of the show, the deceased terrorist leader's name is bin Khalid, and the series begins with his loyalists violently torturing and killing an American soldier and his family.

It's an evocative opening image on any day of the week, but it's especially cutting considering tensions flaring up over the Trump administration's immigration ban, not to mention that it's the first thing viewers will see directly after the Super Bowl, the most-watched event in television. Given the timing, it's worth asking: Is the team behind 24: Legacy at all concerned about how the opening scene and the series at large will play given the current national and international landscape?

"If we didn't know the way the entire season went and how it came out the other side, we might be concerned," Coto tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But here's the thing: the story of this season deliberately starts on an image that you might call jingoistic, expected and possibly inflammatory. We weren't trying to be inflammatory, but it's what the story itself called for. It's about a group of individuals who have killed [an Osama bin Laden type of figure] and are now being taken out by people who want revenge. That's how the story starts. Those are the optics. However, the season, as usually with 24, spins in a different direction. The show does not come out on the same end it went in. We overturn deeper truths. There are things going on that we don't understand at first. What at first seems like a kind of straightforward jingoistic event unfolds like an onion into something much different and surprising and kind of sweeps aside the initial impressions that the season begins with. We would be worried if we didn't know where the season goes."

"The show has a real concrete history of doing this," adds Katz. "Season two starts out being about terrorists who have a nuclear bomb, and then it becomes clear that there's a political cabal that encouraged them to get the bombs so they could raise support for a fraudulent war in the Middle East. Season six was a cautionary tale about registering Muslims. This season will be consistent with those kinds of twists and reveals."

Indeed, there's an established history with the 24 seasons that begin with a focus on Islamic terrorists, eventually shifting to reveal American manipulators pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Coto and Katz insist that 24: Legacy will play out in similar fashion. What's more, they believe the show has a way of naturally unfolding within the modern moment.

"Our society has been through a lot since 9/11," says Coto. "While the original 24 happened in the wake of 9/11, this series happens in the wake of the war on terror, so to speak, and what the blowback is. It has a very different approach. The hero of this season is someone who fought the war on terror and is now back home, trying to live a normal life. He's trying to move past it in a way, as we are as a society. But at least until now, it doesn't seem to want to go away."

As for the message they hope the show sends to the people who are watching the Super Bowl and then choose to watch 24: Legacy, Katz says: "It's ultimately a story about an American hero and an American patriot who in a way is a victim of the war on terror. He went to fight it and he's having trouble reintegrating. It's a statement about all kinds of Americans from all different backgrounds who are in the military and are heroes." Coto adds: "24 is a thriller. We hope people are involved and get hooked in by the story and find it fascinating and are determined to see where it goes."

"It didn't concern us, because we know where the show ends up," Coto continues, referring again to the premiere's first scene. "I like to say the series begins as if it was written by Trump, but it ends as if it were written by Hillary. It's not going where you think it's going. A lot of people who might be thinking they know what we're doing? They really don't. It'll be an interesting reaction. I'm looking forward to seeing how the totality of the season plays out in people's minds."

24: Legacy continues its two-night premiere Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. on Fox. Let us know your take on the premiere and its opening scene in the comments, and tune in to THR.com/24Legacy for more about the show.

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