Bloody finale ends groundbreaking '24' show

Yet again "24's" war-on-terror hero Jack Bauer got shot, beaten, betrayed and still managed to walk away.

Only this time, he wasn't coming back.

The special agent hero of "24", played by Kiefer Sutherland, appeared on television for the last time Monday when the landmark action series wrapped up after eight seasons, 192 episodes and countless foiled terrorist plots.

For his last outing, Bauer forced his friend Chloe O'Brian to shoot him in the chest, came within a hair of assassinating Russia's president, and bit an ear off a traitor.

Of course, the pain was worth it - he managed to persuade Cherry Jones' President Allison Taylor to scrap a Middle East peace deal that he knew was fraudulent.

And then, as always, he got away, saved by the ultimate melodrama of his would-be executioner wasting time talking and missing his chance to pull the trigger.

Finally, viewed via a hovering intelligence drone and advised by a weeping president to flee the country, the bloodied Bauer disappeared into TV history - and, perhaps, a movie version.

In the nine years since the first season debuted in November 2001, Fox's show has been hailed as a landmark in US television that paved the way for other unconventional dramas such as "Lost" and "Heroes."

"'24' is so much more than just a TV show - it has redefined the drama genre and created one of the most admired action icons in television history," said Peter Rice, Chairman, Entertainment, Fox Networks Group earlier this year.

The show format broke new ground by playing out in real time: each season represented a single day, spread out over 24 hour-long episodes.

That in itself was unheard of at the time, according to co-creator Joel Surnow, because conventional wisdom decreed that audiences were unlikely to stay hooked for the entire run.

"You can't syndicate it, and you can't ask audiences to watch all 24 episodes," Surnow told USA Today in a recent interview. "But people got so connected to the show, they watched all 24 episodes of the season."

The 'ticking clock' dimension of each season's storyline also paralleled the ongoing legal debate over "enhanced interrogation techniques" sanctioned by the Bush administration during the years after 9/11.

For conservative admirers of "24," Jack Bauer's readiness to subject terrorism suspects to torture provided a useful cultural reference point.

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who drafted the legal memos which advised on the use of techniques widely regarded as torture, even cited "24" in his book, "War by Other Means."

"What if, as the Fox television program '24' recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?" Yoo asked.

Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia referenced the show during a legal symposium in 2007. "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles - he saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Scalia said. "Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?"

Unsurprisingly, the show's frequent depiction of torture - 67 scenes in the first five season alone - found plenty of critics including civil rights groups, television audience watchdogs and the US military.

In 2007, US Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan and senior FBI interrogators were reported to have met the "24" producers to complain that the show had an adverse affect on military training. "The kids see it and say 'If torture is wrong, what about '24'," Finnegan said.

Producers of "24" however have rejected that the show had set out to make the case for torture.

"To say that we've been some mouthpiece for some political point of view, it's not only specious, but I promise you, it is insane," executive producer Howard Gordon told National Public Radio.

"The show is a show for one thing. It's a thriller in the vein of 'Bourne Identity' or 'Rambo' or 'Dirty Harry.' And the hero finds the bad guy and shakes out of him where the bomb is."

Gordon believes "24" only began attracting attention for its depiction of torture after the Abu Ghraib scandal and revelations about Guantanamo Bay.

"I do think the show experienced some of the blowback. We did understand that the climate had changed, because of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib."

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