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’24’ Backlot Talk

Mar 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Chuck Ross: Hi again, everybody, it’s Chuck Ross, editorial director of TelevisionWeek magazine, and we’re talking today about hour six to seven in day six of “24” with Evan Katz, executive producer and writer. How are you, Evan?
Evan Katz: I’m well, as well as someone who’s currently working on the last few episodes of the season can be.
Mr. Ross: Well that’s got to be exciting and pressure-packed, and we thank you for taking a few minutes to talk to us. Last night’s episode had the action that we’ve come to expect from “24” but also scenes that have a lot of silences and looks, that don’t really slow things down but just add to the whole hour. In particular is the whole cycle when Charles Logan meets up again with Martha, who’s been hooked up with agent Aaron Pierce, continuing everything that happened with last season in that respect.
Mr. Katz: Yeah, whenever you can have three characters that the audience, where not only the actors but the audience knows their history and complexity of their relationships and emotions, it’s great; you can say so much without words. I think the expectation was very high to see Martha. I watched it with my wife and she was like, “Why was she institutionalized? She wasn’t really crazy last year, she was right.” And I said she really wasn’t the most stable person ever. I think you can assume that the events of the divorce and the disgrace sent her over the edge. And certainly the relationship with Aaron Pierce is another great, great surprise.
Mr. Ross: I know that Jon [Cassar] directed the show last night, if I’m correct. Right? Didn’t Jon direct it?
Mr. Katz: Yes.
Mr. Ross: He won an Emmy last year…
Mr. Katz: He did.
Mr. Ross: All of your directors are really good, but he really…the scenes I’m thinking of particularly are as it was leading up with Martha chopping on the knife, and you’re figure to yourself, “Oh my gosh, no. Are they going to go there? Are they going to go there?” And she’s chopping away and chopping away and sure enough, they go there.
Mr. Katz: Yeah, you know, it’s at least supposed to happen right before you think it’s not going to happen. Nothing terrible is going to happen. But I really liked her look when you go back to her after Charles had been taken away and they ask her if she can still do the phone call and she’s like, “Sure.”
Mr. Ross: Not only does she say, “Sure,” but she says, “I’m not crazy,” which is marvelous. I don’t like to do spoilers on this, but I’ll leave it to you. In other instances, like when Tony went down, we didn’t know exactly at the end of the episode if he was dead or not; that’s happened a number of times. I don’t really know if we know at this point if former President Logan is dead or not. It looked like he might be. What do you want to say about that?
Mr. Katz: I think it could go either way.
Mr. Ross: OK, fair enough. Very good. So we’ll see if we get more out of President Logan.
Mr. Katz: He’s certainly one of my favorite characters, and, boy, was he fantastic last year.
Mr. Ross: He does a marvelous job. All of your acting has always been wonderful. We had Ricky Schroder on the show last night and this isn’t the Ricky Schroder from when we were all kids.
Mr. Katz: No. I think I always saw, first on “NYPD Blue,” that he had a toughness to him…
Mr. Ross: Yeah, but this was that to the nth degree, wasn’t it?
Mr. Katz: It’s good to see him like that. That really is the beginning of the introduction to his character. We have a lot of interesting ways to go with him, but I think we have a tradition of bringing characters in who are presented with a bang to the audience. He’s a really good actor; he’s got a great presence and it’s nice to sort of be able to say, “Here I am. Deal with it.”
Mr. Ross: Very rarely in “24” do you actually see an out-and-out funny, joking kind of a line that’s witty, but really funny. You had that last night when the Doyle character, Ricky Schroder, grabbed Morris and Morris responded with something about his shirt being iron-free or something like that. It was very unexpected for “24.”
Mr. Katz: The only times we can get away with things like that are pretty much with Morris and Chloe. We can do it with them because they are smart asses. I think we’re missing a little bit from Chloe lately.
Mr. Ross: Yeah, people e-mail us a lot and that’s one of the things that we have gotten this season; folks want to see more of Chloe as they’ve come to know and love her. Her dynamic with Morris is certainly different than it was with Edgar, and obviously it’s different than it is with Jack.
Mr. Katz: Well, sort of one of the, I wouldn’t say unintended, but different consequences of trying to give her something more meaty, something more personal…We do miss it, but at the same time, if we had done the same thing again: She’s wacky, she goes against the establishment for Jack, she regrets it. So I don’t think it’s bad to…
Mr. Ross: Well, Evan, you know what’s interesting about this show is that “24”actually wants to unhinge the expectations, which is sort of anti-television. The reason that we tune in and love “Seinfeld” week after week is because we’re so comfortable with those characters; and we can say the lines before they say them, even if we haven’t seen the episode. What’s so nice about what you’ve done on “24,” and I know it’s controversial, is you’ve encouraged change; you’ve had a lot of characters die. A lot of shows wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t want to test their audience or test themselves and try not to do the same things. I don’t mean to go on a soliloquy here, but it’s particularly difficult with the show you have, given the fact that there are certain constraints. Jack Bauer is Jack Bauer; even though you do have him evolving, it is what it is.
Mr. Katz: Well just as a show like “Seinfeld’s” goal is to make you laugh, and part of laughing with a character is a sense of expectation of knowing how they’ll respond or waiting for it, part of our job is to make the audience anticipate the worst. And part of how we do that is you never know who is going to bite it. That said, I think that there are a set of expectations that the audience has come to for our show, just different. They tune in waiting to see, “Oh boy, what’s Jack going to do to this guy?” But in a way, just waiting for something terrible to happen is just as much an expectation as waiting for Kramer to do something crazy.
Mr. Ross: In these shows, you’re just daring the audience: How can you not tune in next week? You can’t. It used to be, years ago, you’d watch “Dallas” and there was the cliffhanger at the end of the season. You guys do it every single episode, which I can imagine isn’t an easy thing to write.
Mr. Katz: Well some are better cliff-hanged than others. I think we have the advantage of a high-stakes situation, so we’ve always got the advantage of seeing how they’re going to get over the next obstacle. We try not to do the classic literally perched in a place of physical jeopardy too often. Occasionally we’ll do them, but they’re usually more plot-driven or character-driven.
Mr. Ross: And last night’s a perfect example: At the end of the show Fayed is getting the drone ready with the nuclear weapon, as you’d expect, because that’s what this has been leading to.
Mr. Katz: Right, and less about “How is Jack?” I mean I think one time we did “Jack is dead,” his heart had stopped…
Mr. Ross: That kept us on the edge of our seats.
Mr. Katz: You can’t do it too often or it becomes particularly unconvincing.
Mr. Ross: The last thing I wanted to talk about was some really wonderful scenes between the Powers [Boothe] character and [Peter] MacNicol’s character, the vice president and the secretary, just a really wonderful interaction last night.
Mr. Katz: Yeah, I love watching that scene. You have two guys who couldn’t be more different: different physical presences, I think different approaches as actors; it was fascinating. I love watching Peter MacNicol; he’s so internal, everything is in his eyes. And Powers is much more extroverted as a character, as an actor, and the combination…it’s rare you see those two styles so different. And I was kind of looking at it as where else would you see these two people be in the same room together?
Mr. Ross: Well, lookit, thank you so much for taking your time and your insight. Whenever we have these conversations…I just love the various points of view and what you give us all behind the scenes. We really appreciate it and we can’t wait to talk to you next week after hour seven to eight. Thank you very much.
Mr. Katz: Great, thank you so much.
Mr. Ross: Take care, Evan.
Mr. Katz: Bye.

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