BEVERLY HILLS — Fox’s “24: Legacy,” the latest spinoff from one of the most famous franchises in TV history, launches Feb. 5, as lead-out for Super Bowl LI (the 12-episode series then moves to its regular time period on Feb. 6 at 8 p.m.). But don’t expect Jack Bauer. There’s a new hero who’s about to have the worst day of his life — before it gets better. Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”) plays Eric Carter, a former Army Ranger who returns stateside with personal troubles and challenges.
I recently spoke with Roslyn native Howard Gordon — returning as showrunner, alongside several other “24” vets — about the new iteration. An edited version of our conversation:
What’s the back story to this latest incarnation of “24?” There was, of course, talk of a theatrical movie many years ago — is there still talk?
At first we just talked mostly about the idea in existential terms — is it real time [again], or is it Kiefer [Sutherland] or Jack Bauer? But for the longest time, we didn’t want to test the limits of the franchise. I would’ve bet the house that after I’d finished the eighth [and final] season [which aired in 2010], then that was the end. And even though we had flirted with the movie, I was skeptical about it because the show really lived in this big canvas that a movie — in a strange way — makes smaller. It felt like a smaller story, too.
What happened to change minds — if not about the movie, then the two spinoffs?
Kiefer and I had dinner together and had a scratch of an idea of how it would come back and then we did [2014’s] “Live Another Day.” Evan and Manny [Evan Katz and Manny Coto, both showrunners and writers on the original Fox series] ran that show, with my help, but I had expanded my portfolio to other shows by then, and wasn’t day to day on that. I think we did a good job, and it created the groundwork for “Legacy,” which is to say it really did show us once and for all that Jack’s story had been told. Not to say he won’t cross paths in the “24” universe again — and we may do a movie with Jack Bauer. That’s still a possibility. But there are no plans for Kiefer to come back on “Legacy.”
How did “Legacy” then come about?
Manny [et al] had an idea that was not a “24” idea, but as we talked, we thought, wow, maybe we could roll up with this character who was based on a real story — the special ops team which killed Osama bin Laden, and then came back to the states, where their identities were obscured and had a tough time adjusting. That was the premise of the character, and we realized he could be interesting with that as the focal point.
How did Eric Carter develop from there?
We went through it layer by layer. At first he wasn’t black or white or Hispanic, but we were just filling in the character’s details. Jack still casts a very long shadow.
How did you get to Corey’s character from there?
What happens is that he’s not just a Jack Bauer who happens to be black — but he comes from a whole lot of things. What does it mean to be black in America? To be a black patriot — especially if you come from a place where law enforcement rousted you on a daily basis? It changes your perspective, and that’s the perspective and prism through which you would view your relationship to this country. Corey’s in his mid-20s, so he’s also in a different part of life, and that also makes him different.
And so he’s placed into this very familiar format — real time.
We always believed that in some ways, we own real time [the 24-hour format that corresponds to 24 episodes]. Real time and the counterterrorism story is a very durable storytelling engine. We felt if we could find the right character worthy of that, then we could put him on this chassis, then a whole new audience would come to it. We understood the hazards, and understood we were tempting fate by trying to reinvent the franchise without Jack Bauer, but it’s a risk worth taking.
How will “Legacy” reflect the real world of 2016 — or will it?
An African-American hero and patriot — we haven’t seen that on television in a while and I think that as the central fact is interesting.
How far along are you in production?
Not far enough. Two scripts have been written and we’re breaking in the third episode. We’re a third of the way there. Jon Cassar is also back on board as directing producer and Stephen Hopkins is doing two episodes. [Veteran movie and TV producer Hopkins was a co-executive producer on the original ‘24,’ while Cassar was with Gordon and others executive producer of the original]. Bob Cochran [another creative force on the original] is also coming up few days a week to help.
You have a great cast on this — Jimmy Smits, Miranda Otto, Dan Bucatinsky, to name a few. Can you talk about their roles?
Jimmy plays a presidential candidate named John Donovan and yes, he’s done that before [on “The West Wing”). Miranda was just great on “Homeland” [the fifth season] and there was an incredibly high degree of difficulty to that part, and it was just amazing how she found those flickering moments and you didn’t know which way she’d break on the character. Here she’s Rebecca Ingram, the former head of CTU married to Jimmy’s character who’s a senator who deferred his run for the White House because of how all- consuming her job was. When she was at CTU she was hunting for her great white shark — a terrorist called Bin Khalid. It’s a modern marriage where they share power.
Obviously you are breaking away from the “real time” trope — and doing just 12 episodes as opposed to 24 — as you did with “Live Another Day.” Is the old 24 hours/24 episode format gone for good?
The audience wasn’t as fractured [during the first run of “24”]. We were also beneficiaries of TiVo and DVRs at that time. Now there’s such a plethora of content that we think 12 is as much as we can ask the audience to commit to. We also found a way in with “Live Another Day,” to do it in a 24 hour framework but use time deletion and jump twelve hours.
The old 24-hour structure in 24 episodes was indeed tough for you guys, I’d imagine.
I used to joke — why do we have to do 24 episodes, and [Fox execs] thought I was trying to get out of work. But it was an absurd exercise — a masochistic experience. It almost killed me and a couple of times I was close to being hospitalized. it was relentless — six days a week for nine years and a week off a year for each of those years. I always thought a better story could be told in few episodes, and that one of those time deletions could be used rather than linking one hour to the next. There was an integrity [to the original format] but on the other hand we can tell a compelling story in fewer episodes.
And save your sanity in the process.
And my health. I was so grateful to get to the end of “24” with my dignity and body intact. But here we are again — we all love each other, me and Evan and Manny and Bob, and if we don’t kill each other, we are going to have fun.