Today's WSJ has an interesting story about Fox's effort to reinvent -- and reinvigorate -- its hit series, "24".
Against the real-life backdrop of global terrorist attacks, "24" at its peak fulfilled the fantasies of an insecure nation. It became one of the most important franchises for News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting Co., with 17 million viewers tuning in some weeks and millions returning to watch on DVD. . . .
But those who ride the tide of the times can also get upended by them. As public opinion about the Iraq War turned south, the show's depiction of torture came to be seen as glorifying the practice in the wake of real-world reports of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques used on detainees.
Ratings dropped by a third over the course of last year's sixth season. Producers would later experience trouble casting roles, once some of the most desirable in television, because the actors disapproved of the show's depiction of torture. "The fear and wish-fulfillment the show represented after 9/11 ended up boomeranging against us," says the show's head writer, Howard Gordon. "We were suddenly facing a blowback from current events."
Last spring, Fox executives asked producers to come up with a plan for what to do with their onetime crown jewel. The producers decided to take the radical -- and rarely attempted -- step of reinventing the show. While some fans complained "24" had grown too formulaic, the producers also grudgingly saw the importance of wrestling the show from its ties to an unpopular conflict.
The result: "24" is nowhere to be found on the TV schedule. For weeks the show's producers tried to reconcile the show's premise with the new public mood. Should Jack atone for his sins? Is Jack bad? The script rewrites and philosophical crises left the show so far behind schedule that when the Hollywood writers went on strike in November, Fox had no choice but to delay its premiere date. The show could premiere this summer, next fall or as late as January 2009.