His name is Jack Bauer and this is about to become the second longest day of his life. After the huge success of the cult BBC television series 24, whose devotees spent half of last year watching a day-long drama unfold in weekly one-hour instalments, the pioneering show returns for a second series on Sunday.
In series one, Bauer’s day began with a mid-air explosion, a threat on the life of America’s first black presidential candidate and the kidnap of his own teenage daughter. Six months later, his colleague and former lover Nina turned out to be an enemy spy and, in a dramatic finale, she killed his newly pregnant wife, Teri.
In series two, Jack, still on compassionate leave, and his daughter Kim, now working as a nanny, are attempting to deal with their loss. Meanwhile, Jack is summoned by now President Palmer to stop another terrorist plot with global implications.
So, here we have 24 things you should know about 24 …
1. The first episode of the first series was filmed before the 11 September terrorist attacks. Shots of the aircraft exploding were cut when it was screened afterwards.
2. If the early episodes seemed particularly action-packed, it’s because the producers used a lot of their ideas in case the show was axed after the first 13 episodes.
3. The actors were given scripts only two episodes ahead of what they were working on, so they didn’t know of their character’s fate.
4. In the US, viewing figures for the new series are up by 30 percent on the last.
5. There are thousands of dedicated fan sites and chatrooms. Die-hard fans in Britain have already been downloading the new series from the internet. Each show is put on the net a week after its US transmission (they are about three months ahead of British TV).
6. Hollywood superstar Dennis Hopper begged to be written into the old series after he saw the first few episodes. He plays eastern European warlord Victor Drazen. Fans and critics have described his Balkan accent as hopeless.
7. Kiefer Sutherland won a Golden Globe last month for his portrayal of Jack Bauer. His film career has been revived by 24; his new films Phone Booth – directed by Joel Schumacher – and Paradise Found, in which he plays artist Paul Gauguin, are out later this year.
8. The show’s costume designer made more than a dozen copies of the customised, red, cropped, tight Tshirt-that Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) wore for most of the first series. Some were made clean, some were medium dirty and some very dirty. Cuthbert once described acting in 24 as like being in The Simpsons, because she always wore the same outfit.
9. Scripts for the final episode of the first series were printed on red paper so that they couldn’t be photocopied, to prevent the ending from being revealed. And the actors only saw their lines when they arrived on set.
10. Two separate endings were shot – an alternative happy one can be seen in the DVD of series one when Jack finds his pregnant wife, Teri, shot, but still breathing.
11. A group of people with stopwatches is employed on 24 to make sure the timing is accurate.
12. Series one was nominated for 10 Emmy Awards and won prizes for scriptwriting and picture editing.
13. If the twist in episode 23 of the last series seemed like a shock – Nina Myers being the mole – that’s because the writers only decided on it in episode 13.
14. A fan site calculated that 578 people were killed in the first series – most in episode one, when 523 were on the plane that got blown up.
15. It’s not quite real time, because each episode is only 42 minutes long – an hour of screen time in America, including commercial breaks!
16. Elisha Cuthbert, Kim, who has modelled since she was seven, got her big break when as an international-correspondent for a children’s TV show she was spotted by Hillary Clinton, who invited her to the White House.
17. The team behind 24 includes hotshot executive producer Brian Grazer, who has been nominated for three Oscars as both writer and producer, and won Best Film for A Beautiful Mind. His films and TV shows have been nominated for 39 Oscars and 17 Emmys.
18. Sarah Clarke, who plays Nina Myers, Jack’s treacherous ” colleague” who shockingly murders his pregnant wife at the end of series one, and Xander Berkeley, who plays George Mason, Jack and Nina’s boss, got engaged after meeting on the set of 24. They were married in September 2002. Berkeley later received hate mail from outraged fans for marrying “the evil bitch”.
19. In the second series the drama begins at 8am, whereas the first one began at midnight.
20. In episode nine, eagle-eyed viewers noticed that Kim’s sandals miraculously changed to trainers-Because Elisha Cuthbert could not run in sandals, the costume department painted trainers to look like them.
21. Sarah Clarke was hired to play Jack’s assistant in the morning and began filming the pilot that afternoon. She had to wear her own shirt during the pilot until her costume arrived.
22. Series two introduces Australian actress Sarah Wynter as Kate Warner. She plays a glamorous lawyer involved in Jack’s new case. She is rumoured to be the new love interest, but how much can they get up to in 24 hours?
23. Reiko Aylesworth is another new arrival, as Counter Terrorist Unit agent Michelle Dessler. She has appeared on TV in The West Wing and Law & Order. On the big screen she popped up in You’ve Got Mail and Man On The Moon.
24. Look out for new girl Sara Gilbert, who plays Paula Schaeffer in series two and first found fame as feisty daughter Darlene on the sitcom Roseanne. She has twice been nominated for Emmys.
The new series of 24 begins on Sunday at 10pm on BBC2.