The thrill die is back with a brand new hero, intensified terror, and the same punishing timeline. Here's how producers are keeping the anxiety equally high, more than a decade after the clock first started ticking.
Goodbye, Jack Bauer. Hello, Eric Carter, the new hero of the 24 universe. Executive producers Manny Coto and Evan Katz explain how they resurrected the 15-year-old serialized thriller for yet another tough day at the office.
Try to Do Something Else First
“No one was actually asking us to bring 24,” says Coto, noting that the original idea for the series had been to do a thriller inspired by the Navy SEALs who took out Osama bin Laden. Coto and Katz wanted to tell the story of a former solider who returns home after killing a major terrorist and is forced into witness protection because he’s being targeted. “The more we talked about it, the more we realize this would be really energetic and alive if it were in real time,” says Coto.
Make the Hero an Anti-Jack Bauer
For the showrunners, this premise meant Eric Carter (Hawkins) would have to be a completely different character from Jack Bauer: He’s a young ex-Army ranger who has no field experience at home, unlike Jack. “This season suggests itself as the education of a CTU agent,” says Coto.
“If 24 was about seeing Jack slowly become more and more isolated and paying bigger and bigger prices for his heroism, then [this] starts at the beginning of somebody,” says Katz. “He’s a soldier trying to figure out how to live after participating in an important step in the War on Terror.”
Instead of pairing their new protagonist with a president, as was the case on the original 24, the producers centered the series on Eric and the outgoing Counter Terrorist Unit director, Rebecca Ingram (Homeland‘s Miranda Otto), who worked with Eric’s unit to take down a wanted terrorist and is married to presidential candidate Sen. John Donovan (Jimmy Smits). They thought Eric and Rebecca would make a new and interesting matchup since the CTU director has never been the co-lead.
“We have nine seasons of 24, so the challenge was not to do something completely new, but to do variations on what we’ve done and not go down the same road, because we’ve done everything,” says Coto. “That’s why we don’t have a president this year. We have someone who is running for office and who is dealing with the challenges of that and it’s a different dynamic.”
Localize the Focus
Recognizing that our fears about terrorism have shifted since the original series, Legacy focuses less on large-scale attacks and weapons of mass destruction (a nuclear bomb was detonated in season 6) and more on sleeper cells. “We looked around and felt that homegrown terrorism — people being radicalized through nonconventional means — is very much what’s on people’s minds,” says Katz. However, this is 24, so you can expect the initial terrorism plot will give way to a larger conspiracy.
Don’t Dwell on the Past
The EPs wanted viewers to be able to enjoy Legacy without having seen all eight seasons (plus a TV movie and limited series) of 24. Yes, there are some Easter eggs, but they aren’t essential to comprehending the plot. “We want the audience to feel that these are their people and not to be thinking about the past,” says Katz.
So, when Carlos Bernard reprises his role as Tony Almeida later in the season, all viewers need to know is “this is just a character who has a certain past we need to explicate,” says Coto. “And Tony’s dark past comes back to haunt Rebecca in some way.”
24: Legacy premieres Sunday, Feb. 5 after Super Bowl LI on Fox.