Jewish Journal


January 24, 2002

Time’s on his Side


"24" creator Joel Surnow.

"24" creator Joel Surnow.

There's no denying that Fox's critically acclaimed "24" is a fast-moving show that, unlike other dramas, operates in "real time" -- each 60-minute episode's action literally unfolds over an hour's time.

But what series co-creator Joel Surnow never anticipated was that his rookie show would move as fast in the real world: Not even halfway through its first season,"24" was nominated for Best TV Drama and Best Actor (Kiefer Sutherland)Golden Globes.Dark horse Sutherland won over perennial award show favorites Martin Sheen and James Gandolfini.

Since episode one, the series has tracked Counter Terrorist Unit agent Jack Bauer (Sutherland) into a web of intrigue that turns his corrupted agency against him. Bauer's odyssey grows murkier each week as he must foil an assassination attempt on an African American presidential candidate while simultaneously locating his own kidnapped wife and daughter. The twist: He cannot trust anyone.

It's been a fast rise for Surnow, 47, who wrote for "The Equalizer" and "Bay City Blues." Surnow co-created "24" with his former "La Femme Nikita" partner, Robert Cochran.

"Both Bob and I were raised steeped in Judeo-Christian values," Surnow says. "Bob was raised Christian-Scientist, and we inform the show with those values. We see our hero the same way."

Growing up on the fringes of Beverly Hills in the 1970s was exhilarating for Surnow, who moved from Detroit at age 9 and was bar mitzvahed at West L.A.'s Congregation Mogen David. Surnow's father, whose lineage comes from Odessa, w as a tin man. His mother, in clothing retail, came from Lithuanian descent. Surnow attended Beverly Hills High, dated the daughter of B-movie horrormeister William Castle and befriended the son of Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter on "Gomer Pyle").

A few years ago, "24"'s star went through some growth of his own. Sutherland left Hollywood to go the cowboy way on the rodeo circuit. When he decided to make "24" his big return, there was no hesitation at Fox.

"He was transitioning from boy to man in his life," Surnow says. "I think his life experience outside of the business gave him some gravitas, as they say."

Indeed, the running storyline of "24" harkens back to 1970s TV staple "The Fugitive," which strung viewers along by dangling a dramatic carrot from week to week. "24's" glossy cinematic style evokes filmmaker Michael Mann. No accident: Surnow worked on the first season of Mann's visually flashy "Miami Vice."

"I was influenced by his attention to detail," Surnow says, "which I think he brought to TV -- saying that a series could look bigger, like a movie."

Stylish flourishes, like a split-screen effect, make "24" appear big screen. But this is more functional than conscious homage to Norman Jewison's "Thomas Crown Affair."

"It was organic," says Surnow, who credits the pilot's director, Steven Hopkins and editor Dave Thompson, for this device. "A real-time show has lots of phone calls, and phone calls on TV are boring. We decided to start and end every act with a split screen."

Off the clock, Surnow spends time with his five children, ages 6 - 19. "Two Jewish, three mutts," he says, tongue in cheek. Now remarried, Surnow says, "I'm basically a holiday Jew. However, she's a pretty devout Catholic, and there are a lot of similarities in the two cultures."

"24's" creators have already begun brainstorming for a Day Two. But Surnow has an even grander project ahead once season one wraps.

"I'm going to plan a vacation," he says, laughing.

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