Fox Is About to Learn Whether the 24 Franchise Can Survive Without Jack Bauer

Network is pulling out all the stops to relaunch the franchise

The show stars Corey Hawkins as Eric Carter, a U.S. Army Ranger in hiding who is pressed into service when terrorists find him. 24
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Fox hopes that its Super Bowl telecast breaks ratings records on Sunday, Feb. 5 (topping the 114.4 million who watched two years ago on NBC), but the performance of the show that follows it is even more important to the network’s long-term bottom line. That’s when Fox will launch 24: Legacy, its eagerly awaited reboot of the hit Kiefer Sutherland series, which ran for nine seasons.

Launching the new show—which stars Corey Hawkins as Eric Carter, a U.S. Army Ranger in hiding who is pressed into service when terrorists find him—after the Super Bowl was a “unanimous” decision, said Dana Walden, co-chairman and co-CEO, Fox Television Group. But it’s also a huge gamble: can the franchise continue without Jack Bauer? (Sutherland won’t appear on the series but signed on as an executive producer, and worked with executive producer Howard Gordon on story ideas for a few early scripts.)

"This is a coveted brand; our job is to make sure everyone knows it's returning."
Angela Courtin, evp and CMO, Fox Broadcasting

“There’s always the chicken or the egg question: Is 24 Jack Bauer or is 24 real time? It’s both,” said Gordon. “But that character had run its course, and real time as a narrative engine, as a brand, was always compelling as a writer and as a way to tell the story. The challenge was finding a character who could animate this franchise, and we finally did.”

The network is pulling out all the stops to relaunch the franchise, which it hopes will be as long-running and lucrative as the original was. “This is a coveted brand; our job is to make sure everyone knows it’s returning,” said Angela Courtin, evp and CMO at Fox Broadcasting. The network’s extensive campaign has a three-pronged approach—starting with a “New day, new hero” tagline, transitioning into “Who is Eric Carter?” before focusing on the tune-in details—but one element is consistent throughout: 24’s ticking clock. “We use the mnemonic in every spot,” said Courtin. “We wanted to make sure that even if you only heard a spot, you would know it’s a 24 spot.”

While the franchise has struck season-long partnerships and integrations with brands—”24 is a show that has such a specific relationship to cars, because people have to go places, and to technology. So those are such reliable brand partners and such natural fits,” said Gordon—Fox is embarking on its biggest one yet for the new series. The company teamed with Samsung to create The Raid, an elaborate virtual reality prequel (it launched Jan. 9 on Samsung VR) that immerses viewers as Eric Carter and his squad storm the Yemen compound of a terrorist leader.

Samsung's vast 24: Legacy partnership includes a virtual reality prequel.

Gordon wrote and produced the prequel, which features Hawkins and co-star Miranda Otto, and sets the events of the series in motion. “I was concerned that it would be a good experience because I didn’t want to hurt our brand. But I think it came out really well,” said Gordon, who had no idea what VR was prior to working on the prequel, but has already pitched Samsung on a new chapter of the story.

The Samsung deal, which includes a bigger integration in a future episode and season-long placement of its devices on the show, “is indicative of the direction we would like our partnerships with brands to be moving,” beyond traditional integrations, said Walden. “This is what we can offer our brand partners: you’re not only going to be in this season, but one of the greatest creators in the business is going to focus on eventizing this partnership.” (Ford is also a partner on 24: Legacy this season.)

While recent post-Super Bowl shows—Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Blacklist and New Girl—haven’t been able to hold on to audiences beyond that night’s ratings bump, buyers see 24: Legacy as a better fit for the Super Bowl audience. “Being more action-oriented helps. Something like New Girl is more niche, and 24 is going to appeal to a much wider breadth of audience,” said David Campanelli, svp, director of national broadcast for Horizon Media. “It does tick off some of those boxes better than some of the shows recently have. I think it’s set up pretty well to succeed.”

Now it’s up to the show to keep that audience coming back for more. “We’ve gotten such tremendous support from the network and from the studio, that we feel the pressure of delivering,” said Gordon. “This thing better work!”

This story first appeared in the January 30, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.