One of the most iconic counter-terrorism shows of the 2000s, “24,” once had a very different premise than what fans would think.
The Kiefer Sutherland-led show is well-known for its harrowing action, last-minute rescues, and nail-biting plot twists. But when showrunner Joel Surnow first came up with the idea for “24,” he pitched it as a romantic comedy.
According to an interview with “Written By,” Surnow first conceived the idea of each episode operating as an hour of time. He didn’t know how or why the show would work like that. The story propelling that sort of episode structure would come later.
“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,” Surnow began. “That’s what television was back in 2000. Then I thought, ‘What if you did 24 episodes, and they were an hour of the day?’ Then I thought, ‘That’s a weird idea. Could you do a show in real-time?'”
While in the bathroom, Surnow called up eventual showrunner Bob Cochran. Cochran “immediately” said the “24” premise wouldn’t work. But neither one of them could get the idea out of their heads. So a few days later Surnow called Cochran back and the two decided to start brainstorming. That brainstorm produced the first idea that “24” could be a romantic comedy.
“The next day we met an IHOP in the West Valley,” Surnow continued. “And we started with the idea of doing a romantic comedy version of it. 24 hours before a wedding. It was sort of like the old movie, ‘Lovers and Other Strangers.'”
But Surnow and Cochran ended up asking themselves, “Why someone would stay up for 24 hours? What would keep him awake?
How the ’24’ Creators Came Up with the Premise of the Show
As Surnow and Cochran debated these questions, they eventually landed on the idea that would become “24.”
“We realized it would be urgency, race against time,” Surnow explained. “Then we thought, ‘What if someone has to protect the president from being assassinated?’ And that was a good start.”
The “24” creators also channeled another main storyline that would essentially make up the pilot episode of the show.
“Bob and I both have daughters, so what happens if you’re awake because your daughter doesn’t come home? Those two ideas became the premise of the pilot. In a sense, that became the premise of the entire first season. The hard part was Bob and I figuring out what ’24’ meant.”
After eight regular seasons, one two-hour movie, one limited series, and one spin-off series, we’d say the showrunners figured out what the FOX show meant.