Q&A: '24' exec producer Howard Gordon

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Fox's "24" began in November 2001 with a terrorist blowing up an airplane. During the next eight seasons the real-time thriller became the defining series of the post-9/11 era, often finding itself in the middle of the national debate about torture and security. Showrunner Howard Gordon was there at the beginning and wrote May's emotional series finale.

The Hollywood Reporter: Do you think "24" would have been a hit if we weren't in a post-9/11 era?

Howard Gordon: The show would have been successful, but I don't think it would have been nearly as resonant. The real world gave us a lot of fodder so it's almost impossible to imagine what it would have been like in an alternate universe without 9/11. It's like asking what the show would look like without Kiefer Sutherland. It's hard to imagine it.
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THR: Who has been the most the surprising fan of the show?

Gordon: I was in Iraq and found myself talking to both Gen. (Ray) Odierno and the British ambassador, and it turns out that Gen. Odierno is a tremendous fan of the show. I actually put him on the phone with Kiefer from Baghdad.

THR: And the most surprising critic?

Gordon: The critics are not surprising because I feel like the show has--fairly or unfairly--become a pawn in certain agendas, particularly in the torture debate. I am far more surprised by the wide range of fans we have. The most surprising is that Rush Limbaugh and Barbra Streisand could love the same show.

THR: Did Rupert Murdoch ever tell you whether he liked it?

Gordon: At one wrap party, he did say that he did like the show. But you know what, I couldn't even tell you. It was a fairly muted compliment. (Laughs.)

THR: Did Fox ever refuse to air anything?

Gordon: The only thing they nixed, to my recollection, is when we downed Air Force One and the president died. We had to have the president survive.

THR: Have your views on torture changed since working on the show?

Gordon: My views have changed only because I have gotten a crash course in what's been done in reality. But I can't really speak to that because I'm not an expert. The far more nuanced and challenging area for me has been privacy versus security. How far do we go to monitor our citizens and noncitizens and what are the criteria for that? The hazards are apparent but so are the hazards of inattentiveness or of protecting people to the point of not being able to detect a threat. There is certainly a line, and that line is, I think, constantly being drawn. I always say this about "24": Even though we may have been kicked around as the mouthpiece for policy that allows torture or that forgave it or promoted it, the fact that we were having the debate in society was a very healthy thing.

THR: Some on the right said "24" changed when conservative co-creator Joel Surnow left. Do you agree?

Gordon: It wasn't so much that Joel left but that the world changed and the reductive wish fulfillment that "24" initially represented (changed). Not only did the world change but Jack (Bauer) changed because he continued to lose and lose. He has grown increasingly scarred by his own life. It's not because the conservative left the room, it's because Jack grew into this darker character and the world into a much more complex place.
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