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“Where’s Jack Bauer?”
That’s the one question no one should bother asking heading into 24: Legacy, the newest iteration of the classic real-time thriller, set to premiere Sunday on Fox after the Super Bowl. Kiefer Sutherland’s iconic counter-terrorism agent won’t be anywhere in sight when the show returns, given his obligations as the (fictional) President of the United States on ABC’s Designated Survivor. Best to assume that Bauer’s taking the day off — which is still not a pleasant proposition, given that he was last seen on his way toward living the rest of his life in a Russian prison cell (and that’s the best-case scenario) at the end of 2014’s 24: Live Another Day.
Instead, there’s a new hero in town: Eric Carter, played by Straight Outta Compton and The Walking Dead actor Corey Hawkins. When the series begins, Carter is living at home in Washington, D.C., barely removed from serving his country overseas as an Army Ranger. During his service, he was involved in a deadly mission that claimed the life of a top terrorist leader. Now, the ghosts of that operation are coming back to haunt him, foreshadowing an even greater and imminent threat to his nation. Bullets, bloodshed and betrayal ensue, with Carter forced to work with new allies, fight new foes and even cross paths with one of the most familiar faces in 24 lore. Also familiar: the pulse-pounding tick-tock of the clock.
However, the early concept for the series had no connection to the 24 world whatsoever. “Originally, this wasn’t even supposed to be a 24 series,” executive producer and co-showrunner Manny Coto tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was an idea that rose out of the idea of killing Osama bin Laden, and the six soldiers who had to go undercover because they were targeted. What would happen if those soldiers were found out and started to be hunted down? It was an idea for a different series, or just a thriller, until we realized it was perfect for the real-time format.”
It’s far from the first time that 24 has taken its cues from the headlines, and certainly won’t be the last. From its earliest days, the series was close to national conversations on war and torture, and the current season will be no different.
“The original 24 in many ways was kind of chronicling the era of post-9/11, where this series, we found, chronicles the post-war on terror,” says Coto. “We’re dealing with the blowback of the war on terror in a strange way. If you really look at it, the inspiration for this series was the killing of bin Laden, and the first series started right when bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center. It’s kind of a full circle. Unfortunately, the show does seem to be relevant, although terrorism has changed. Back in the original series, the fear was large-scale infrastructure, mass-casualty attacks. Whereas now, we seem to be facing lone wolves, individuals who do smaller attacks, who pick up a gun and go to a mall and start shooting up the mall because they’re inspired by a certain philosophy. What 24 has always done is take the worst-case scenario possible and extrapolate on it. That’s kind of what we have done for this series, take the idea of lone wolves and extrapolate it into more of an organized network of individuals who are going to launch a series of attacks on the country. It’s challenging, and unfortunately, there always seems to be material, and America always seems to have enemies.”
Once establishing the premise, Coto says that he and the 24 team quickly arrived at an idea for its central figure: a young soldier who returns home from war, and brings it back with him. “He was fascinating to us because he’s not a CTU agent,” he says. “He’s not someone from this world, unlike Jack Bauer, who was already a seasoned agent when we met him, and had even taken down a bunch of crooked agents. He had been around the block. This guy is new to the world. It’s a way to see the 24 world through his eyes.”
Although producers knew they wanted someone less seasoned at the center, the Carter character changed notably from the original conception, thanks in part to Hawkins’ performance. “Originally, and this is going back to the beginning of the pilot, he was a bit more down on his luck and almost reluctant,” says co-showrunner and executive producer Evan Katz. “We discovered that 24 requires a drive and a tremendous desire to do, that a lower energy hero just was never going to have. With Corey, I think there’s something very good about him and something very idealistic about him, that he radiates as a person. I think it’s informed his attitudes toward what other people do, and I think it’s informed what he does.”
From there, more and more characters were added to the mix, like former CTU director Rebecca Ingram (Miranda Otto) and Jimmy Smits as her husband, John Donovan, a Senator running for president. Donovan is the latest in a long line of 24 politicians, including the beloved President Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) and the loathsome President Logan (Gregory Itzin).
“If you have Palmer on one end and Logan on the other end, Jimmy’s character is much closer to Palmer,” says Katz. “He’s an idealistic man who wants to do good. He comes from great wealth. His father is in the oil trade. You get the sense that his politics and his desire to do good while his father is promoting it, that maybe there’s an attempt to give back.”
For the most part, 24: Legacy will focus on characters who weren’t featured on the original series. But there’s one major exception to the rule: Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), a fan-favorite figure from the show’s earliest days. He is Jack Bauer’s oldest friend, and someone who has oscillated between hero and villain so many times that it’s hard to keep track. Tony appears in a 24: Live Another Day DVD extra breaking out of prison, a scene that Coto says was designed for a future season of the show with Sutherland still in the lead.
“We were already thinking ahead about bringing Almeida back in some way or another,” he says. “When it turned out Kiefer wasn’t going to do the series, we still held onto that idea. We felt Almeida teaming up with Corey — our fresh new lead who’s a soldier and doesn’t know anything about CTU, pairing up with somebody who’s been through CTU and has come out the other side into darkness — would be a perfect character match for him to come up against.”
The exact nature and timing of Almeida‘s return remains unknown, but for now, he’s the only major player from the old 24 guard who will appear in the new series. With that said, Coto and Katz state that the show is so entangled with Eric Carter and the individuals in his orbit that there’s no time to even register Jack Bauer’s absence.
“Much of the original 24 actually occurred without Jack Bauer, if you think about it,” says Coto. “There were always multiple stories running throughout the day, and if you actually measured these stories out, you would find that Bauer’s story was only a percentage of what was happening onscreen. Most of the time, you’re watching other people doing other things. In a strange way, 24 without Jack Bauer has always existed. But what we’ve done here is create a new hero that really came from this idea of finding a way into this.”
Continues Coto: “In a way, it’s kind of discovering that that 24 format works with a different individual, as long as that individual has a drive and motivation and a desperate need to solve something terrible that’s coming. The real-time format can work with a different individual, and I think we’ve discovered that this year.”
Of course, that’s not to say 24 is out of the Bauer business forever.
“Who knows what the future may bring?” says Coto. “Jack Bauer is in a Moscow prison right now. I for now don’t intend to keep him there. It could be Eric Carter’s job to get him out someday. You never know. It’s something we can easily envision and would be fun to do someday. I hope we get the chance.”
24: Legacy premieres Sunday on Fox after the Super Bowl. Let us know your predictions for the series in the comments, and head to THR.com/24Legacy for more news and interviews.
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