Critical reaction to 24 (TV series)

Critical reaction to 24 (TV series)

The Fox Network television series 24, has won numerous Emmy Awards for its technical and artistic merits, and become part of American popular culture. At the same time it has been heavily criticized, in particular for justifying the misuse of government authority and the use of torture.



The series, and its creators have been nominated and have won many awards, including:

24 has also won many technical Emmy Awards including: Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Drama Series, Outstanding Single-Camera Sound Mixing For A Series, Outstanding Stunt Coordination and Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.

24 has received critical acclaim for its strong lead character and large cast (especially Carlos Bernard, Dennis Haysbert and Mary Lynn Rajskub, Gregory Itzin, Jean Smart and Cherry Jones), complex story lines and unpredictable cliffhangers. It has been called[by whom?] "ground-breaking", "action-packed" and "an edge-of-your-seat show". Its most acclaimed[by whom?] plot lines were those involving Nina Myers and Charles Logan. The character of Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) also received rave reviews[2] in Season 7, even getting to be called the "Jack-girl" by fans.

24's real time story-telling method and split-screen technique have also received widespread praise and critical acclaim.[by whom?] This aspect of the show also made it hard to produce from a creative point of view because there was no possibility for time cuts. This meant that characters needed to be either driving or on an airplane for exactly the same time as it took to perform the actual journey. This led to an increasing suspension of disbelief.

The fact that 24 started its run a mere three months after the September 11 attacks may have increased the show's popularity. Although the show had started production well before the attacks, its theme of terrorism was strikingly current. Both the producers and Sutherland thought that the attacks would be the end of the show, but it seemed that it had the opposite effect.

Another related factor is that 24, as Sutherland said, had "a story that's literally been ripped from today's headlines". For example, in Season 2 (2002–2003), the United States of America was about to go to war with a Middle Eastern country. Meanwhile, in real life, the United States invaded Iraq. Also, in Season 1 (2001–2002), an African American Senator, David Palmer is running for President of the United States, winning the election between Seasons 1 and 2, becoming the first African American President ever. Approximately eight years later (in real life), on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first African American President. Sutherland said that these coincidences (due to the fact that the episodes had been written and shot before the real-life events happened) showed "just how these guys are in touch with what's happening in the world".

Criticism and controversy

Depiction of Muslims

Criticism of the show's depiction of Muslims began in its fourth season, in which the main antagonists were Muslims affiliated with the fictional terrorist group Turkish Crimson Jihad.

In the first episode of Season 4, a Muslim-American family is depicted to be among these, in which parents and their teenage son actively engage in a plot to kill Americans[3] (although the son, and in later episodes, the mother, are portrayed sympathetically). The writers of the show said in a special DVD feature that they countered this depiction of terrorist Muslims by showing opposing situations. For example, in Season 2, Tony Almeida interrogated a Muslim man who was about to get married to an American woman, only to realize that the Muslim was innocent and it was his fiancée who was the terrorist. In season 6, the racial witchhunt against Muslims iniciated by White House Chief of Staff Tom Lennox was countered by the story of a wrongful arrest by the FBI of the Director of the Islamic American Alliance and by the story of a Muslim CTU agent who was racially profiled by Homeland Security. In season 8, Omar Hassan, the President of the fictional Islamic Republic of Kamistan, was trying to broker a peace treaty with the US when he was killed by opposing factions inside his own administration.

Criticism began early on in season 4, including a complaint made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations that depicting Muslims as terrorists could "contribute to an atmosphere that it’s OK to harm and discriminate against Muslims. This could actually hurt real-life people." Following this complaint, representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Fox met to discuss the matter, and an episode of the season began with a public service announcement by Kiefer Sutherland addressing these concerns, in which he stated that "the American Muslim community stands firmly beside their fellow Americans in denouncing and resisting all forms of terrorism. So in watching ‘24,' please bear that in mind.”[4] Another episode of this season also portrays two Muslim American citizens aiding Jack Bauer with the intention of seeking retribution for the previous attacks by terrorists that day. Both brothers (and Bauer) survive a gunfight against American mercenaries.

In 2007, the American Islamic Community renewed its criticism of the series when it appeared that the main terrorists of the sixth season would, as in 2005, be Muslim.[5] (It was later revealed that the Muslims in season 6 were being used by Russian radicals to take the fall for their agenda.)

In response to this criticism, FOX sent a statement to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, expressing that "Over the past several seasons, the villains have included shadowy Anglo businessmen, Baltic Europeans, Germans, Russians, Islamic fundamentalists, and even the (Anglo-American) president of the United States. Over the course of the series, no ethnic group has been singled out for persecution or blame."[6] In season 1, the terrorists were Serbian; in season 2, the villains were anti-government and racist Americans, Muslim radicals, and a European oil consortium. In season 3, the adversaries were Mexican drug dealers, former CTU agent Nina Myers with connections to Germany, then a former British intelligence agent. In season 4, the terrorists were Muslims from Turkey, and in season 5 the terrorist plot involved Russian separatists and American conspirators, including a corrupt President of the United States. It should also be noted that the attacks in Season 6 involve a former Soviet General, an English businessman, and members of Jack Bauer's own family. Later on in the day, the Muslim antagonists are defeated, but shadowy elements of the Chinese government surface to take advantage of the crisis.

Season 7 features very little Muslim involvement. In the later episodes of the season, an innocent Muslim is framed by the season's villain and forced to commit a terrorist attack. However, this man is later able to make contact with Jack Bauer, and risks his life to (successfully) avert the very attack he was meant to perpetrate. Ironically, he does so by holding up the WMD and shouting that he is a terrorist; the mass panic allows him to escape and deliver the WMD to Bauer, who disposes of it with seconds to spare. The season ended on a particularly benevolent note towards Muslims, since while Jack Bauer is dying he reaches out to an Imam featured earlier in the season to confess. In addition, the main antagonists of 24's final season, season 8, are depicted as Russian government leaders and Muslim puppets.

Shaun Majumder, an Indian-Canadian comedian who appeared in two episodes of the series as a terrorist, made fun of the fact that many Muslims are depicted this way in a sketch on the comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes.


The program routinely includes scenes of torture, both physical and psychological, and CTU is portrayed as employing several personnel exclusively for this purpose—characters Richards, Johnson, and Burke are only seen on-screen when they are torturing someone. Jack Bauer himself also is prepared to torture suspects both physically and emotionally.

In its first five seasons there were 67 scenes of torture—more than any other show on television,[7][8] Melissa Caldwell, the Parents Television Council's Senior Director of Programs, said:

"24 is the worst offender on television: the most frequent, most graphic, and the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture."[9]

Subsequently, the PTC launched a campaign to try to persuade sponsors to stop buying airtime for 24,[10] having named several episodes as "the worst television programs of the week"[11][12][13]

The depictions of torture as effective and necessary have prompted considerable criticism from human rights activists, military officials, experts in questioning and interrogation, and even from fans of the series.[7] The film Taxi to the Dark Side claims that the show popularizes torture. Stephen King, an admitted fan of 24, wrote,[14]

"There's also a queasily gleeful subtext to 24 that suggests, 'If things are this bad, why, I guess we can torture anybody we want! In fact, we have an obligation to torture in order to protect the country! Hooray!' Yet Jack Bauer's face — increasingly lined, increasingly haggard — suggests that extreme measures eventually catch up with the human soul."

People affiliated with 24, as well as many of its fans, have responded to this criticism by stressing that the show is fiction and therefore is not required to portray torture and interrogation realistically,[15] but in February 2007, The New Yorker magazine reported that U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan (dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point), accompanied by three of the most experienced military and FBI interrogators in the country, met with the producers of 24 to criticize the show for misrepresenting the effectiveness of torture as an interrogation technique, saying it encouraged soldiers to see torture as a useful and justified tactic in the War on Terror, and damaged the international image of the United States.[9] Brigadier General Finnegan believed the show had an adverse effect on the training of American soldiers because it advocated unethical and illegal behavior. In his words:

"The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do."[9]

Joe Navarro, one of the FBI's top experts in questioning techniques, also attended the meeting. He told The New Yorker,

"Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected. You don’t want people like that in your organization. They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems."[9][16]

The New Yorker article itself echoed many of these criticisms, and went on to suggest that the show's portrayal of torture was a reflection of the political views of its creator, Joel Surnow, an avowed conservative and supporter of George W. Bush.[9] The New Yorker's criticism of 24 and Surnow was picked up by other commentators and bloggers. Andrew Sullivan, for instance, argued that 24 repeatedly used the "ticking time-bomb" scenario "in such a way as to normalize torture in the public consciousness."[17]

  • Gordon, who is a “moderate Democrat,” said that it worries him when “critics say that we’ve enabled and reflected the public’s appetite for torture. Nobody wants to be the handmaid to a relaxed policy that accepts torture as a legitimate means of interrogation.” He went on, “But the premise of ‘24’ is the ticking time bomb. It takes an unusual situation and turns it into the meat and potatoes of the show.” He paused. “I think people can differentiate between a television show and reality.” [1]

Allegations of bias

On June 23, 2006, the politically conservative US think tank The Heritage Foundation held an unusual panel event to discuss "24 and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism".[18] The panel event, which was first conceived by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, Ginni, was moderated by talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. In addition to 24 executive producers Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow, and Howard Gordon, and 24 cast members Gregory Itzin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Carlos Bernard, the panel included Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and leading Homeland Security experts James Jay Carafano and David Heyman.

During the event, Limbaugh, a fan of the show himself, commented that "Everybody I've met in the government that I tell I watch this show, they are huge fans." He specifically identified former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Republican political strategist Mary Matalin as enthusiastic fans.[19] The event audience also included Justice Thomas and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham.

The show is popular among conservatives.[20] Time magazine ran an article on January 14, 2007, analyzing the show's political tilt.[21] The article argued that while the show's use of the "ticking time bomb scenario" favored conservative interpretations, the thriller is itself a conservative genre and that such scenarios "make for exciting TV". Furthermore, journalist James Poniewozik pointed out the show's use of plotlines—such as an invasion of a Middle East country based on fabricated evidence of WMD stockpiles and a "chilling" depiction of Muslims rounded up into detention centers—favored a more liberal view. Joel Surnow is also quoted as noting that the show has fans across the political spectrum, from Limbaugh to Barbra Streisand. TIME concludes that: "24's ideology—Jack Bauerism, if you will—is not so much in between left and right as it is outside them, impatient with both A.C.L.U. niceties and Bushian moral absolutes."

However, in February 2007, The New Yorker claimed that the series was heavily tilted towards conservatives. Throughout the article, "Whatever It Takes: The Politics Behind the Man of 24," Jane Mayer cites Surnow's support for the Republican Party and in particular his admiration of Ronald Reagan, who Surnow states was "the father this country needed" and "made me feel good that I was in his family". Mayer also characterizes Rick Santorum, to whose campaign Surnow donated money towards, as "hard line" and Surnow's friend Cyrus Nowrasteh as a "hard-core conservative". Early in the article Mayer states that Surnow is a critic of the 2003 Iraq War, an "isolationist" and as someone who has "no faith in nation building".[22]

Allegations of decline in storytelling quality

During Season 6, 24 received repeated criticism from fans, critics, and media watchdogs. Jack's torture of his own brother, Graem Bauer, drew attention to the show's extreme portrayal of violence, and criticism was aimed at the series' over-reliance on plot devices used in prior seasons, such as a nuclear threat, the attempted assassination of a president, the invocation of the 25th amendment, and Jack's attempt to save someone with whom he was romantically involved. The deaths of main cast members such as Curtis Manning also came under scrutiny.[23]

Co-producer David Fury has gone on record to admit that the production team made several mistakes in the long-term plotting of direction of Season 6; this played a large part in their decision to end the "Suitcase Nuke" plotline early and dedicate the final seven episodes to a different storyline.[24] Fox President Peter Liguori said: "We’ve really heard what the loyal audience has said to us. The good news is simply this: It has really fueled the show runners to be more daring with what they're going to do next year."[25] In another interview, Howard Gordon confirmed that Season 6 could be "the last iteration of [the series] in its current state."[26]

Audience interaction

Fan Phone

First appearing in the fifth episode of the fourth season, a valid California phone number (310-597-3781) has been shown on screen at various points during the show. The number, since dubbed the 24 "fan phone", leads to an actual telephone on the set, and received upwards of 50,000 callers in the first week after it was shown.[27][28]

In the original scene containing the phone number, a character receives a call from her mother. In order to have the cellphone's caller ID show "Mom", producers chose to use a real phone (belonging to a member of the props department), rather than build a fake display. Although the number only appeared on screen for a moment, calls started flooding in within minutes of the first airing. The phone's owner canceled the account, but director Jon Cassar decided to reactivate the line.[27] Since then, the number has appeared multiple times, as the phone number of various characters, through the fourth, fifth and sixth seasons.

Generally, especially of late, viewers calling the number are directed to a generic Nextel voicemail box; however, the phone is often picked up by whoever is free on set, and viewers have spoken to a wide variety of cast and crew members, including director Jon Cassar, production designer Joseph Hodges, Kim Raver (Audrey) and Carlos Bernard (Tony).[28]


  1. ^ "Primetime Emmy® Award Database". ACADEMY OF TELEVISION ARTS & SCIENCES. Retrieved 2010–10–10. 
  2. ^ Wieselman, Jarett (2009-01-20). "I'm Loving "24's" Female Jack Bauer". New York Post. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  3. ^ Action Alerts @ CAIR-Chicago - Ignorance is the Enemy
  4. ^ Four Stars for “24”: Black & White, Birmingham's City Paper
  5. ^ ""24" Under Fire From Muslim Groups". CBS News. 2007-01-18. 
  6. ^ BBC NEWS | 24 under fire from Muslim groups
  7. ^ a b Miller, Martin (2007-02-14). "24 and Lost get symposium on torture". The Seattle Times. 
  8. ^ Bauder, David. Group: TV torture influencing real life. USA Today: February 11, 2007.
  9. ^ a b c d e Mayer, Jane (2007-02-22). "WHATEVER IT TAKES: The politics of the man behind 24.". The New Yorker. 
  10. ^ "24" campaign on Parents Television Council page (currently inactive)
  11. ^ Shirlen, Josh (2007-01-25). "Worst TV Show of the Week - "24" on Fox". Parents Television Council. Retrieved 2007-10-20.  Episodes cited: "Day 6: 6:00 AM - 7:00 AM" and "Day 6: 7:00 AM - 8:00 AM"
  12. ^ Shirlen, Josh (2007-04-20). "Worst TV Show of the Week - "24" on Fox". Parents Television Council. Retrieved 2007-10-20. Episode cited: "Day 6: 10:00 PM - 11:00 PM"
  13. ^ Rankin, Aubree (2003-04-20). "Worst of the Week: "24"". Parents Television Council. Archived from the original on September 13, 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-30. Episode cited: "Day 3: 2AM-3AM"
  14. ^ Stephen King on '24': So good it's scary | 24 | The Pop of King | TV | Entertainment Weekly
  15. ^ Green, Adam (2005-05-22). "Normalizing Torture on '24' - New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  16. ^ Rejecting use of torture in TV shows
  17. ^ Sullivan, Andrew. "Torture Nation". Retrieved 2006-03-02. 
  18. ^ ""24" and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does it Matter?". Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  19. ^ ""24" and America's Image in Fighting Terrorism". 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  20. ^ Carpenter, Amanda (2009-04-17). "Liberal actress says tea parties were racist". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2009-04-17. 
  21. ^ Poniewozik, James (2007-01-14). "The Evolution of Jack Bauer". Time.,9171,1576853,00.html. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  22. ^ "Whatever It Takes: The Politics Behind the Man of 24" by Jane Mayer February 19, 2007 – February 26, 2007 edition of The New Yorker
  23. ^ criticism of Season 6[dead link]
  24. ^ Season 6
  25. ^ Hal Boedeker (2007-05-17). "Fox honcho "not satisfied" with "24" this year". Orlando Sentinel. 
  26. ^ Fury interview, New York Post, May 3, 2007.
  27. ^ a b Adalian, Josef (2005-01-24). "Inside Move: Phone number has a familiar ring". Variety. Retrieved 2007-05-10. 
  28. ^ a b "Cell Phone Number Featured on '24' Connects for More Than 50,000 Die-Hard Fans". The Futon Critic. January 24, 2005. Retrieved 2010-10-10. 

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