Tick, tick, tick ... and done.
After eight seasons, Fox's 24 is coming to an end.
The groundbreaking action drama will air its final real-time episode in May, the victim of a confluence of circumstances: a swelling budget, declining ratings and creative fatigue.
Yet for fans of Jack Bauer, there remains hope. Studio 20th TV is developing a theatrical film that takes Bauer to Europe, and showrunner and executive producer Howard Gordon says other possibilities are being explored as well.
"There are other possible iterations of Jack Bauer and his world," Gordon said.
The writing has been on the wall for the show all season, which Gordon said felt like "senior year of high school" to star Kiefer Sutherland.
Because of the constant upward spiral of cast and creative team salaries, any drama begins to carry serious financial weight after its fifth year. Sources say Fox paid a hefty $5 million per episode license fee to 20th TV.
Meanwhile, the show's ratings dropped 16 percent this season to a 3.8 adults 18-49 rating including DVR—still healthy numbers for a scripted drama, yet not enough to overcome the program's increasing cost, a budget that was set to climb once again since contracts for Sutherland, Gordon and other key players expire this season.
Then there's the show's creative struggle. How many times have 24 characters declared that a looming crisis will be addressed "within the hour," or has Bauer struggled to gain the respect of the latest CTU chief? Gordon says the show's writers felt they had exhausted the real-time possibilities for Bauer and never came up with a truly compelling idea for Day 9.
"If one of the writers came up with a good idea, I'd happily pitch it to Kiefer and then happily pitch to a network, whether Fox or someone else," Gordon said. "We just don't have that idea, and that's where everything has to start."
Producers did sniff around at other networks, namely NBC, with 20th TV offering to lower its license fee to $3.5 million to keep the show going. NBC ran the numbers and passed.
As the weeks tick down to the show's final hour, Gordon promises a strong finish coupled with the current New York-based storyline taking a dark and creatively risky turn for the final episodes.
For fans, the ending of 24, along with ABC's Lost, represents the departure of one of the few successful serialized action-driven shows on broadcast, leaving a suitcase-nuke-sized gap in the creative landscape. In addition to its unique real-time storytelling model, the drama pioneered the modern-day TV cliffhanger. Even its scheduling was an innovation—a returning hit that airs in midseason without repeats.
"I'd like it to be remembered as a revolutionary concept," Gordon said. "I hope the second thing is that we loved this show so much and never did anything less than our best and I hope we delivered to our fans like we feel we did to ourselves."