LOS ANGELES — Jack Bauer has cheated death a few dozen times, but he couldn’t avoid cancellation.
After putting the tireless Counter Terrorist Unit agent to work for eight extra-long days, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly has ordered that Jack stand down at season’s end.
Although everyone on set reacted to the news emotionally, no one is perhaps sadder than the man who brought Jack Bauer to life.
“It’s very sad. The only thing tempering this from being all-out heartbreak is the fact that we have this sense of accomplishment,” Kiefer Sutherland said. “That’s the only thing holding people up. Because for me and all these people who’ve been with us since the beginning, it’s a very special thing, and it’s very sad to see it end.”
The termination notice comes in the middle of Day 8, which critics have panned and the audience has largely shunned. The most recent episode of the show, March 22, drew 8.7 million viewers — down 34 percent from Season 7’s average of 13.3 million. While the ratings have cooled, the cost of producing “24” has continued to increase.
“Everyone concurs that we want the show to end as close to peak form as possible,” executive producer Howard Gordon said. “If they said tomorrow that you have a ninth season, it’s not something we’d be up for because we realize Jack’s story in the real-time format has been told. Jack is a wonderful character who can live past the ‘24’ real-time franchise.”
Indeed, Jack may not be retiring just yet.
Sutherland, also an executive producer on the series, is eager to get started on a “24” movie, and 20th Century Fox has hired a writer, Billy Ray (“State of Play”), who pitched his own version of a bad day for Bauer in Europe.
At its peak, “24” helped transform Fox into a ratings powerhouse in the early 2000s. Alongside shows such as “American Idol” and “House,” it vaulted the network into the No. 1 spot among the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic.
“I know the end will be a very difficult day, and I would love to have avoided it,” said Sutherland. “It’s hard. I broke it down the other day: I’ve worked on ‘24’ more than half of my professional career.
“We’ve made 196 hours of TV ... close to 100 movies. That’s a very successful career in itself. I think Gene Hackman and my father (Donald Sutherland) are the only two people who’ve made more stuff than that. So it would be silly for me to pretend the end of this would not have a huge impact on my life.”
The clock stops ticking May 24.