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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 16:28 GMT
'Real time' show debuts on US TV
Sutherland stars as the CIA agent Jack Bauer
By Peter Bowes in Los Angeles

It is simply called 24. The title of the latest new drama to be screened on US TV refers to the 24 episodes which will roll out in real time tracking 24 continuous hours of action.

The spy thriller, which is set in Los Angeles, has been described by America's TV Guide as "the best new show of the year".

The fast-action drama is full of suspense and is visually slick

The drama, which premièred last night on the Fox network, is set in the CIA and stars Kiefer Sutherland as an anti-terrorist agent who has to prevent the assassination of an African-American presidential candidate.

Sutherland's character, Jack Bauer, also has to rescue his dysfunctional family during the same 24-hour period. Jack's relationship with his wife Teri, played by Leslie Hope, is crumbling while his wayward teenage daughter has left home to hook up with some rather dubious friends.

The fast-action drama is full of suspense and is visually slick.

Survivor "pales in comparison"
Some scenes are played out simultaneously using a split screen which occasionally carries a count-down clock adding to the tension.

Tuesday night's episode ran from midnight to 1am on the day of California's presidential primary. The show is built on split-second timing which is critical to the suspenseful nature of the plot.

By the end of the 24-week run, the show will have catalogued just one day in the life of its CIA hero.

Fans of the show are already being teased by the prospect of another series following a similar 24 hour period - but not necessarily the next day.

Sutherland, who is probably best known for the Young Guns movies and the thriller Flatliners, rises to the challenge of the show and plays a major role in keeping the audience on the edge of its seat.

24 must compete with the popular Frasier
The show was due to première last month but it was delayed after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The story involves a bomb being planted on a 747 jet flying over the Mojave desert. By launching now, 24 raises the stakes at prime time during the key audience ratings period known as the November sweeps.

At 9pm it has tough competition from Frasier, NYPD Blue and the Superman prequel, Smallville, airing on rival stations.

It is the novel real-time concept which sets the show above most of the new autumn dramas - including two other CIA-related series.

True reality

Both Alias and the Agency are floundering in the ratings. On the evidence of episode one, which set a high standard, the series will reach a dramatic climax which will captivate the audience.

Already, so-called reality shows such as Survivor, now in its third season, pales in comparison with 24's twists and turns.

24 may face a problem with the true reality of life in America at the moment.

There is a sense that whatever the scenario, however inspired and original, no TV drama could come close to the catastrophic events of 11 September.

That said, with the passage of time, the escapist nature of the story - and the clever high-tech presentation - may strike a chord with TV viewers looking for real escapism.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | TV and Radio
Subdued schedules for US TV
21 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
New Survivor struggles in ratings
24 Oct 01 | TV and Radio
Bill Gates to star in Frasier
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