Interview of Robert Cochran, the very talented co-creator and co-producer of « 24 »
CM : After 4 years in Purgatory, as an illegal immigrant in Eastern Europe, Jack Bauer is back for the 9th season. Considered a traitor to his own country, he surfaces in London in order to prevent the killing of the US President visiting London, or to kill him, who knows... It is a success in the US and in France simultaneously with Canal +. What happened to the movie that you were supposed to shoot after the 8 th season ?
RC : For any movie to get made, the stars have to be in perfect alignment, and all at the same time. Cast, script, director, financing all have to be ready to go at the same magic moment, and that moment just never happened.
CM : When the 1st season of 24 was due to start in September 2001, 9-11 happened. Although the show was postponed to November, it was not canceled. It was completely in sync with the prevailing fear of terrorism under Bush administration. Do you think Obama taking power and the death of Osama Bin Laden, made Jack's mission less necessary or ?
RC : The show has always existed in a sort of parallel universe, with a limited connection to specific events in the real one. I don't think Obama's presidency or Bin Laden's death had much impact on the show one way or another. In general, terrorism is still a major concern, and, unfortunately, probably will be for some time to come.
CM : « 24 » was heavily criticized as being conservative as Fox TV, promoting « preventive torture » which was revealed in Guantanamo. You always said that you were not taking any critical side regarding the administration, just telling stories, but it seems that Jack comes back just in time when the US army has drown away from Iraq and is slowly leaving Afghanistan, the drone issue, which is the reason why in 24, the US president is in London to sign a treaty. I suppose you work in close connection with CIA and FBI advisers ?
RC : In fact, we don't work closely with CIA and FBI advisors. And regardless of what anyone says or thinks, we've never tried to score political points one way or the other. The entertainment side of Fox had little or no connection with the news side. Why did we go to Fox? Because Joel and I had a personal relationship with an executive there (Craig Erwich), from our days at Cannell Studios. Anyone who thinks there was a political agenda to the show getting picked up simply has no idea how the television business works. If you believe anything about TV, believe this: Networks put a show on the air for one reason - they think it will make money.
CM : After 9-11, I heard that Hollywood writers, had been consulted for movies like « Fight Club », « the Siege » anounced terrorism on the US soil… In 24, President Palmer being black certainly made President Obama election possible in people’s mind… How do you feel about this power of fiction ?
RC : I certainly do believe fiction has the ability to influence the way people think about things, though of course it's hard to say how much in any given instance. I do remember Dennis Haysbert, who played President Palmer on the show, telling me that when he visited the White House once (years before Obama was elected), everyone there called him Mr. President!
CM : In France whenever you write a TV show, everything has to be moral and thus very often becomes very boring. What I find personally completely thrilling in US TV shows is precisely the fact that anything is morally acceptable as long as the motivation of the character has some morality. Hence Dexter can kill people ; it is really bad but as long as he kills serial killers, it is ok. All the same, the heroe of « Breaking Bad » can deal drugs, if he wants to save his family. And Jack Bauer can let Audrey's husband, who saved his life, die to recover information as long as he wants to save the world. Jack can have different partner as long as he never recovered from his wife's death. Gosh that was a long preamble...How can you explain this juxtaposition between terrible deeds and morals ?
RC : I guess the notion is that few people are evil in their own eyes. Everyone has reasons for what they do, reasons that make sense to them. And the question of how far you can go in fighting against what you regard as evil, without becoming the thing you're fighting, is a very old and very fascinating question, which lies at the center of Jack Bauer's life and of 24. I think it was Nietzsche who said something like, "When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you."
CM : Why did you or the FOX decide to go for a miniserie of 12 episodes instead of 24 ?
RC : Miniseries of 8,10, or 12 hours seems to be the fashion now. There may be commercial or financial reasons driving that fashion but I don't know what they are.
CM : The 24 hour real time prevented Jack from eating, urinating, having sex, laughing, it prevented the TV writers from using dreams and flashbacks... Most of the time constraints lead to innovation. Can you tell us about how came the idea of split screen and possibly other inventions ?
RC : First, Jack is only onscreen roughly half the time or perhaps a little more, so he had ample opportunity to eat, urinate, etc., during his offscreen time. The split screen notion came about when we were editing the pilot and realized that there were an awful lot of phone calls. The split screen was an attempt to make them more visually interesting. Then we realized it was also an excellent complement to the the show's multiple story lines, reminding the viewer of all that was going on at once.
CM : I remember when I last interviewed you in 2006, I was surprised that you did not have all the arches of the stories ready for the whole season as we French imagine. You told me that you had a beginning and an ending and only two episodes ahead, and all that kept changing was it still the case with the mini-serie ?
RC : Yes, pretty much.
CM : The character of Jack is getting darker resembling that of Daniel Craig in the last James Bond ? Do you feel that influence ? How do you explain this gloominess ?
RC : Jack got gloomy well before the last James Bond movie came out. I think a lifetime, or at any rate eight seasons (now nine), of trying to save the world at the expense of one's personal happiness would be enough to make anyone gloomy.
CM : The character of Chloé, whom we do do not know if Jack can trust her, looks like, a kind of gothic Edward Snowden meeting with Lisbeth character from « Millenium » novel ?
RC : We wanted to show a different Chloe this year - one who, for personal reasons, has turned against the people she once served and trusted. The changes in her appearance were designed to emphasize this.
CM : It looks like in most 24 hours, women need to be saved and keep putting the heroe in danger, mainly they are traitors... Is there anything related to the fact that the team is mainly male ?
RC : I don't really agree with your characterization. We've certainly had plenty of male villains, including traitors, over the years. In the fifth season, one of the main villains was actually the (male) President, and one of the heroes was his wife. And for two seasons we had a woman president who, while flawed, was a strong and positive character. Renee was another strong, courageous woman character, a heroine, and we have another this year in Kate. And in most seasons, when Jack got in trouble it was a woman - Chloe - who helped bail him out. I believe we're an equal opportunity show. Anyone, male or female, can be a hero, villain, traitor, strong, weak, etc. As for Jack rescuing women in distress, well, rescuing people is his job. He's rescued plenty of men in distress as well!
CM : How can you make a TV show with no sex at all ? Sorry for asking, it is a key question, for I may have French readers...
RC : The show has had a little sex from time to time, but I know what you mean. The show's premise is a ticking clock, urgency, a headlong race against time and disaster, and these things don't really mix well with sex - at least not with good sex (though I suppose that could be a matter of taste…)
CM : It is the first time 24 leaves the American soil, why London ? The historical and economic tight relationship between the two countries certainly play an important part I suppose. London is iconic, eventhough one sees little of London. You shot at the LondonTube, you were allowed to shoot terrible things, but one : jumping the fare barrier for free…
RC : One practical reason for shooting in London, apart from whatever financial benefits may have been negotiated, is that everyone there speaks English. If we shot in another major European city, Paris or Rome or Berlin, say, we would have to deal with the problem that most of the citizenry would only be speaking English as a second language if at all. Potentially difficult-to-understand accents, subtitles, etc. might become a nuisance for us and for the audience. We are trying to work at least a few iconic London sights and locations into the show.
CM : In every episode, you tend to kill people we care for. It started with Jack Bauer's wife and you kept doing it. Why are you doing this ?
RC : There's no point in killing someone nobody cares about! Also, the occasional death of a major character keeps the audience tense, never knowing what to expect, which of course goes to the essence of a thriller-type show such as 24. It took us a little time to be sure we wanted to kill Jack's wife at the end of Season One, and a little more time to convince the network. But Jack had saved Palmer (at that time a Senator), and he had killed or caught all the bad guys, and he had saved his daughter; so if he saved his wife as well, we felt it would be such a happy ending that it would be false to the tone of the season. And I think we were right. Killing Jack's wife established two things: one, anything can happen on this show; and two, Jack Bauer pays a terrible price for what he does to save the rest of us, and these themes have continued through subsequent seasons.
CM : Personally I see something Shakesperian in the show. In Shakespeare’s plays, there is no worst. Tell me about Shakespeare and 24…
RC : As much as I'd love for us to be mentioned in the same sentence as Shakespeare, I have a hard time doing so with a straight face. However, since you ask, I suppose if there is anything Shakespearean in 24, it would center on Jack Bauer as a tragic figure. He is a man who always does what must be done for the greater good, even if the act itself could be seen as immoral, and even if it destroys his own chances at personal peace or happiness. So the more he saves others, the more he loses himself, and the more emotional and psychological distance he puts between himself and the community her serves. That is his fate and his destiny, and it's based on the essence of who and what he is. Whether that conception of tragedy is Greek or Shakespearean or both (or neither?), I'll leave to others to decide.