’24’ Creators Developed Concept for Series While at Popular Restaurant

by John Jamison

Who can forget Jack Bauer and his team of counter-terrorism agents racing against the clock to stave off disaster? 24 was a groundbreaking show in 2001, with the “entire season in one day” concept creating a sense of non-stop urgency throughout the show’s nine-season run. But what if we told you the 20-time Emmy Award-winning series was born over a cup of coffee and a stack of pancakes at IHOP?

If that’s not enough, try your best to picture Kiefer Sutherland dealing with a torn bridal gown or a fallen cake just hours before a wedding. That’s right, 24 creators Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran initially played around with the 24-hour concept as a romantic comedy with the countdown building toward a wedding. Just a bit different than the final product, wouldn’t you say?

Still, the pair knew they were onto something with the idea of a real-time show documenting each passing hour with a new episode. But even that took some workshopping.

“I was shaving one day and looked into the mirror thinking how my life as a TV writer was broken into 22 episodes each season. That’s what television was back in 2000. Then I thought, ‘What if you did 24 episodes, and they were each an hour of the day?” Joel Surnow told Craig Modderno of Written By in 2014.

Well, Surnow had a phone in his bathroom (this is 20 years ago, mind you), and he called up his writing colleague Bob Cochran to bounce the idea off of someone. Cochran said it was no good; the concept couldn’t work.

A few days later, stuck in L.A. traffic, Surnow had an epiphany and decided that this was a good idea, after all.

How ’24’ Went From Romantic Comedy to Action Thriller Over a Cup of Coffee

The 24 creators met at IHOP, where Cochran, too, admitted that the 24-hour concept could work. So they got to work. They began to throw around the idea of an entire 24-episode season documenting the lead-up to a wedding, hour by hour.

Their illusions of making 24 a romantic comedy were quickly shattered when they realized the stakes were too low. Only so much can happen in the middle of the night when the only danger is a bride or groom getting cold feet.

“What would keep him awake? Then we realized it would be urgency, race against time. Then we thought, what if someone has to protect the president from being assassinated—and that was a good start,” Surnow continued in the interview.

And voila, Jack Bauer and the CTU were born. All it took was a shave, some traffic, and a meeting at IHOP. Oh, and a pair of talented writers, of course.