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By John McCullough

Publication Year: 2014

For eight seasons between 2001 and 2010, Fox’s 24 garnered critical accolades and became one of the most watched and discussed shows in primetime. In an innovative premise, the show’s hour-long episodes were meant to represent a real-time hour of the story, so that each twenty-four-episode season depicts a single day in the life of its characters. Influential as a popular hit, 24 was also closely linked with the “culture of fear” that dominated the post-9/11 period. In this insightful study, author John McCullough demonstrates that the series was not only unique and trendsetting, but also a complex creative response to its historical context. In three chapters, McCullough looks at 24’s form, style, and overarching themes and meanings. He argues that although the series is driven by the political and cultural shifts brought on by the War on Terror, it is routinely out of step with real history. Using Linda Williams’s distinction between the melodramatic mode and melodrama as a genre, McCullough explores 24’s use of the action-adventure and spy thriller forms with particular attention paid to the series’ hero, Jack Bauer, who is depicted as a tragic hero perpetually in search of a return to innocence. Ultimately, McCullough finds that the series’ distinction lies less in its faithful re-creation of the history of the WOT than in its evocation of the sense of crises and paranoia that defined the period. McCullough also analyzes 24 as a response to television culture in the “post-network” age, characterized by reality TV’s populist appeal and visceral content, on the one hand, and sophisticated boutique cable programming (“quality TV”), on the other. McCullough demonstrates that 24 engaged not only with the most pressing issues of world history and the geopolitics of its time, including terrrorism, neoliberalism, and the state of exception, but, on the strength of its form and style, also represents significant global trends in television culture. Fans of the show and media history scholars will appreciate this thorough study.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: TV Milestones Series

Title Page, Editorial Board, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-14

For eight seasons, between November 2001 and May 2010, 24 became one of the most popular shows in primetime, averaging about 10 million viewers per episode.1 Its style and themes have exerted a powerful influence on the television industry and popular culture generally. Its distinguishing characteristics include its formal design, its visual style, and its...

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1. 24 and Cultural Forms

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pp. 15-46

In this chapter, I discuss the formal characteristics of 24, including genre, narrative, and character types. Initially, though, it is necessary to discuss 24 as an example of the melodramatic mode. This mode is characteristic of a wide range of American popular culture, including films and television shows, and especially soap operas and primetime dramas like 24. Arguing...

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2. 24 and Style

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pp. 47-76

In the previous chapter we saw that 24’s use of the melodramatic mode; action-adventure, spy, western, and soap opera genre conventions; deadline-driven cause-and-effect narratives; and stereotypical characters all contribute to a sense that, on a formal level, and beyond the real-time concept, the series is indistinguishable from many action-adventure films and television series. By contrast, the series gained great distinction and...

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3. Themes and Meanings

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pp. 77-98

In the previous chapters I have discussed the form and style of 24, describing how certain genres, narratives, and character types structure the series and how it is distinguished by its visual aesthetic, its particular approach to editing and sound, and its acting and performances. While the series’ real-time plot device is unique, we also noted that 24 is relatively typical of...

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pp. 99-104

Despite its apparent geopolitical relevance, 24 is primarily about entertainment and shopping, not war, politics, or history. Imaginatively capturing the narcotic fantasy effects of the series, Kiefer Sutherland described it as “Dynasty on crack.”1 This type of admission that 24 is nothing but spectacle is made explicit in the final minutes of the series, when Chloe O’Brian...


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pp. 105-116


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pp. 117-120


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pp. 121-134

E-ISBN-13: 9780814338681
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814338674

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 20
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: TV Milestones Series