Gregory Kane: '24' captured good writing in real time

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Do you still watch “24”?

That was the question two of my colleagues in journalism put to me recently. The question had an accusatory tone to it, akin to “Do you still beat your wife?”

I suspect that fans of “American Idol” never get such questions, although their tastes in television are even more suspect than mine. No one's ever criticized the acting, directing or scriptwriting on “24,” but “American Idol” has had more than its fair share of bad singers.

The truth is, I can go to any storefront church in any American city and find much better singers than “Idol” has now, has had or ever will have.

Well, I've never beaten my wife. But I was a “24” addict for the duration of its eight-season run. I've been a fan of film fare done in real time since I got hooked on Alfred Hitchcock's “Rope” many years ago.

“24” was the only television show done in real time. Why wouldn't I watch it?

What got me hooked on real-time films and television shows is that the technique is hard to even try and darned near impossible to do well. Hitchcock mastered it brilliantly in “Rope”; “24” hit the mark in most of its eight seasons.

But a real-time plot wasn't the only thing “24” had going for it. In today's plethora of reality shows on the airwaves, I was starved for any show that involved a plot.

You know, something with a story line, some rising action, falling action, climax and a denouement. It was the presence of a plot that got me hooked on another departed show, FX's “The Shield,” which had its final season in 2008.

The protagonists of “The Shield” were a team of Los Angeles Police Department plainclothes cops who were corrupt, brutal and racist. That put me off at first, but as I followed the arc of the story line it became clear that these cops paid dearly for their misdeeds in ways they never expected.

“The Shield” had something else going for it: a harsh depiction of reality and an avoidance of anything resembling political correctness. It remains the only American television show, fictional or nonfictional, to make a reference to the brown-on-black war some Los Angeles Latinos are waging against their African-American “brothers and sisters.”

The producers of “24” were on the same track regarding a disdain for the politically correct, but got derailed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations in 2005, the show's fourth season. The story line was about Counter Terrorism Unit agent Jack Bauer — exquisitely portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland for eight seasons — and his attempts to ferret out a Muslim sleeper cell in America.

CAIR reps visited Fox officials and claimed the plot unfairly cast suspicion on all of America's Muslim families. It didn't, of course; in fact, CAIR's spurious and frivolous complaint did more damage than season four of “24” ever did. But execs at the Fox network caved in and issued a disclaimer at the beginning of one show.

Those Fox honchos were either cowards or caring, compassionate souls. Were I in their shoes, I'd have told the CAIR folks that their accusations were baseless, that the show didn't unfairly stereotype or portray Muslims, and that I fully realized that most American Muslims are also loyal Americans.

Then I'd have told them to get the hell out of my office.

In short, I'd have done what's been called “going Jack Bauer” on them. “24” is gone, and no longer will its lead character “go Jack Bauer” on anyone.

I don't know about you, but I'm sure gonna miss that.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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