‘24’ contributed to the debate on torture


In the aftermath of 9/11, Fox’s “24,” each season
covering a harrowing day in the life of the ultimate counterterrorist
agent, expanded beyond its beginnings as a high-powered action show with
an original format.

With Jack Bauer repeatedly
overstepping even the most liberal interrogation rules to get key
information quickly, and keep the always preposterous show rolling along
on its hour-an-episode schedule, “24” became a lightning rod for the
national debate on torture.

Critics argued that
the show made torture seem normal, saying that one of the producers,
Joel Surnow, a rare conservative in the Hollywood power grid, was
pushing an agenda. Some even saw Rupert Murdoch, boss of News Corp.,
which owns Fox Broadcasting and right-leaning Fox News Channel, pulling

Everyone involved in the series denied
political motives. The show’s villains, after all, were rarely Middle
Eastern. Some of the best were a corrupt U.S. president, a devious first
lady, and the boss (played by another Hollywood conservative, Jon
Voight) of a private security company group that was a dead ringer for
Blackwater Security Consulting, the main source of U.S. mercenaries in
Iraq. Those getting rough treatment came in all shapes and sizes. Bauer
himself was frequently a victim.

conspiratorially inclined observers correctly saw an over-the-top
entertainment, employing, and improving upon, the time-tested formulas
of such edge-of-the-seat political thrillers as “The Manchurian
Candidate,” “The Ipcress File” and “Marathon Man.”

mistreatment, and nick-of-time defeat, of those who would threaten
America filled an empty emotional space in some of the audience longing
for the demise of Osama bin Laden, and made “24” only more satisfying.

show was conceived, and some of its first season was filmed, before
9/11. It premiered Nov. 6, 2001. To demonstrate its concern for public
perception, Fox pushed the premiere, which included the bombing of a
commercial airliner and deaths of all on board, back a whole week from
its initially scheduled start.

first-responder series “Third Watch” was much more directly affected by
the real-life attacks. Following 9/11, it had to stop filming its third
season on the streets of New York, as usual, for fear of alarming the

FX’s “Rescue Me,” which concludes its
seventh and last season Sept. 7, fictionally focused on New York
firefighters, and gave Denis Leary’s career a boost, but Dennis
Haysbert, who played David Palmer, that paragon of presidents on “24,”
may have been the TV actor who most benefited from the post-9/11
national mood. He went on to lead “The Unit,” a 2006-09 CBS series
created by David Mamet about an elite military counterterrorist outfit,
and garnered a lucrative contract as spokesman for the peace of mind
supposedly provided by Allstate insurance.


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