21CF Chats: ’24: Legacy’ creator, EP and writer Evan Katz on the show’s birth, writing for the real-time format, major themes

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When the clock for Super Bowl LI hits 00:00, another one will begin when “24: Legacy” premieres after the big game Sunday, Feb. 5, on FOX. While the storytelling format will remain the same, many of the faces will be different this time around, including the new lead character, Eric Carter, played by Corey Hawkins.

To understand how this reinvention of the franchise will work, I spoke with creator, executive producer and writer Evan Katz during FOX’s recent TCA day. He talked about the time it took to bring “24: Legacy” to life, how the new series will relate to the original, the central themes of the show and more.

“24: Legacy” creator, executive producer and writer Evan Katz.

How does it feel to finally be so close to the premiere?

As always, it feels amazing and, of course, terrifying. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the page. People are responding positively, and we have great hopes. Everyone at Fox has been super supportive. [Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs] Dana Walden and Gary Newman have really had our backs, been patient and let us do our thing. We’re all hoping for a big success.

How does this process of waiting for the birth to happen compare to previous experiences you’ve had in waiting periods?

This one had a long gestation period. [Creator, executive producer and writer] Manny Coto and I had an idea when we were shooting the last version of “24” in London about 2 1/2 years ago, and that slowly became “24: Legacy” and went through a long development process. So it’s like a very, very long birth. In any other circumstance, there would’ve been induced labor. For “24,” we would always start April or May and go on in January, so there was always some wait. But this is more extraordinary, especially because it’s a new thing. It’s not Season 10 – it’s its own new thing.

This is an extension of the franchise, but how much of “24: Legacy” is tied to the original series? How did you balance that with forging a new path?

We knew what we wanted to take was the genius of the real-time storytelling format, which [co-creators and writers] Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran created. We knew it was going to be a thriller about a terrorism threat to the country on some level. We also knew that we wanted a whole new cast of characters, so really the only “character” until well into the series that’s from the original show is the Counter Terrorist Unit. Manny has been on the show since Season 5, I’ve been on the show since Season 2, so we have a very good sense of when something feels like “24.” Another priority was to make sure people could watch the show and not feel like they have to watch the original – not to over-reference the original and make sure these new characters have their own platform, their own space for the audience to discover them and bond with them.

What’s the writing process like for the real-time format? Is it different from the writing process on other shows using a traditional format?

Oh, yeah. I’d imagine it’s the way the original “Law & Order” was. It’s a box you have to work within. I think it’s a restriction that forces you to be creative within a set of rules, and you internalize those rules. There’s obvious ones, like a character can’t be in radically different places within the same episode, even though we bend the rules when we can. The stories have to provide the sense of time pressure – the stories themselves, not just the real-time format. You’re running out of time, you only have a certain amount of time to do something – we need to make sure the stories are imbued with that sense.

What have been the biggest changes since “24”?

I think the nature of terrorism has changed, and I think that’s reflected in the threat for this season. People are less worried about terrible large-scale attacks and more worried about insidious local attacks. But the biggest change is the character of Eric Carter. Jack Bauer was middle-aged when we met him. He had a 17-year-old daughter and was running CTU. The big change here is that Eric is a man who is on the cusp of trying to figure out: “I was a hero in the war and now I want to be a family man – or do I?” So really the big change is the set of characters we’re working with.

Though the show’s story is based in the U.S., the series will be aired in more than 160 countries. How, if at all, do you account for such an international audience when telling the story?

I said “Wow” when I heard [Fox Networks Group Chairman and CEO] Peter Rice say that number. We don’t write these stories to appeal to a certain demographic. We just want to tell a good story and hopefully engage people, thrill them and make them feel something.

The original “24” premiered about two months after 9/11; “24: Legacy” is premiering in a different climate. What questions do you hope the show will cause people to ask themselves and each other?

How do you fight terrorism without losing your soul? That’s the global question we see, one that the characters on “24: Legacy” are posing differently from the characters on “24.”

What theme in the show resonates with you the most?

The idea of a true American hero and patriot who is trying desperately to be a good man, a guy who came from a troubled background and who wrenched his life in the direction of doing good. I think the wish fulfillment of that and the idea that we all will always need heroes is the core of the show. Hopefully Eric Carter will be our new hero.

What do you hope viewers will say after seeing the series premiere?

“Wow, I can’t wait to see the next episode!”