Surnow leaves '24'

Co-creator and producer exits to focus on new projects

UPDATED 7:27 p.m. PT Feb. 12

"24" co-creator/executive producer Joel Surnow is leaving the Emmy-winning Fox drama.

Surnow's departure is effective immediately. He served as an executive producer on the first eight episodes of the real-time thriller's seventh season that were produced before and into the strike but will not be creatively involved in the remaining 16 episodes, slated to begin filming shortly.

Surnow's overall deal with "24" producer 20th Century Fox TV was up April 30. This week, the writer-producer asked the studio to release him early, and it agreed.

Instead of signing a show deal to continue providing services on "24," Surnow decided to go for "a clean break" and leave altogether to focus on new projects. ("24" co-creator/executive producer Robert Cochran's overall pact with 20th TV also expired last year, but he continues to work on the series.)

Surnow began contemplating an exit from "24" in the summer, when the show was starting production on Season 7, but made the final decision during the strike.

"I did some soul-searching," Surnow said. "I took it as an opportunity to write on my own and do other things."

Surnow said he is not sure what exactly he will do next, but one thing is certain: "24" will be a tough act to follow.

"After doing '24,' I don't know if I want to do a mainstream show again," he said. "I like what's going on in cable; there is an opportunity to stretch dramatically there, which is something I'm trying to do."

As for his departure, Surnow said it was hard to leave the show that had been "a life- and career-changing experience" but knowing that "24" was in "the capable hands of Howard Gordon" made it easier. Gordon has run "24" since Season 6.

Fox on Tuesday praised Surnow and left the door open for him to be involved with the show in the future. "Joel created one of the landmark series of this decade in '24', and his contribution to its creative excellence over the years has been immeasurable," Fox said. "His input will always be welcome."

In the past couple of years, Surnow has been shepherding other projects on the side, including the Fox News Channel series "The 1⁄2 Hour News Hour."

Last year, Surnow, Cochran and Gordon developed and produced three pilots through their banner Real Time Prods., which will no longer exist because the principals won't be under the same roof anymore.

The openly conservative Surnow, who jokingly labeled himself a "right-wing nut job," has been the most visible of the masterminds behind "24."

He hasn't shied from speaking his mind and made headlines in November when he said: "Are we nuts thinking Hillary Clinton could be president of this country? Honest to God, just stand back and think about it."

Ironically, the upcoming seventh season of "24," slated to debut in January 2009, features the first female U.S. president, played by Cherry Jones.