Is time running out for Jack Bauer and the 24 series?
After eight seasons and 192 hours of real-time drama, Jack Bauer is facing one group of adversaries who will always hold the upper hand: the men in suits at his TV network.
In a matter of days Fox Television must decide whether to drop the show. And although secret agent Bauer tends to make a habit of upsetting the odds, the prognosis in this battle for survival does not look good.
The front page of Variety, the entertainment trade magazine, this week reported that 24's demise was imminent.
The network appears “ready to end the long-running hit” because of falling ratings and rising production costs.
A final decision over whether to make the current series the last will, it said, “be made in the next day or two”.
Adding to fears of the show's demise was Fox's president Kevin Reilly, who told an interviewer that he was not sure it had a long-term future after this season ends in June.
“It's a very tough call,” he told The Hollywood Reporter when asked if the show was to be axed. The show's final chapter would mark the end of an era. Launched in the wake of 9/11, its tub-thumping celebration of all-American derring-do made it perfect entertainment for a nation that had been thrust into the ‘War on Terror’. President George Bush was famously said to admire Bauer, the dashing but psychologically troubled protagonist played by Kiefer Sutherland.
The show's “real time” structure, in which each one-hour episode followed the events over a fictional hour of time, was considered revolutionary. But shifting public attitudes towards America's overseas adventures have left the programme feeling less in tune with the public mood, particularly outside the US, where it was widely (and very profitably) syndicated.
Yet the biggest factor contributing to the show's potential demise is almost certainly cold, hard cash.
Jack Bauer's one potential prospect for redemption may come in the cinema. 20th Century Fox, the network's sister film studio, recently hired Billy Ray, the writer of State of Play, to come up with the script for a 24 movie.