Dennis Haysbert clocks back in on ’24’

Dennis Haysbert

24 gets a bracing shot of leadership Monday (Fox, 9 ET/PT) when Dennis Haysbert returns as David Palmer, a former president called back into action to advise a shaky interim commander in chief.

Palmer “helps to keep things in balance and helps with tough decisions,” says Haysbert, who will appear in the final six episodes of this fourth season.

The return of a decisive leader such as Palmer will be “a very welcome thing” for counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), says Haysbert. Bauer has had his frustrations this season with dithering bosses, including the weak-kneed vice president Charles Logan (Gregory Itzin), forced into the top job after the sitting president was incapacitated.

Bauer and Palmer bonded in the first season, when Palmer was a presidential candidate and foreign enemies tried to force Bauer to assassinate him. He ended up saving Palmer, and the two have worked closely — almost always over Bauer’s ever-present, ever-charged cell phone — to save the world since then. “We finally get that one-two punch going again,” Haysbert says.

Haysbert, whose Palmer chose not to seek a second term at the end of last season, is one of a number of past 24 regulars to return for parts of a season. “It’s something we’ve done every single year. People grow to like these characters,” executive producer Howard Gordon says. “When we can insinuate them back into the story, we love it. That familiarity is worth something.”

The producers wanted to find a way to bring back Haysbert, with his tall, commanding presence and deep, authoritative voice. So they critically injured his presidential successor, John Keeler (Geoff Pierson), having him improbably survive an air-to-air missile strike and plane crash. Killing him would have been a more controversial choice and wasn’t necessary to achieve the producers’ goal, Gordon says.

“Dennis has been an absolute mainstay of the show. He’s really one of my favorites,” Gordon says. “I think he’s often called Mr. President. He’s even been approached to run for office.” One early idea had Palmer strapping on a gun and joining Bauer in the field. “We felt that was a little far-fetched,” Gordon says.

It’s not as if Haysbert, 50, has been entirely gone from 24. As an Allstate spokesman, he regularly appears in commercials during the show, which is up 26% this season with an average 12.3 million viewers.

In the time away from 24, Haysbert acted in a CBS pilot, The Unit, the story of a military anti-terrorism unit being produced by The Shield‘s Shawn Ryan and playwright David Mamet. He also will appear in the upcoming feature film Jarhead, based on a Marine’s experience in the 1991 Gulf War, and an ABC miniseries about ancient Rome, Empire.

Haysbert says he would have liked to appear for the full 24 season, but the six episodes will help Palmer “get a little closure,” he says. “I still feel like a regular. It’s just that I was out of the loop for a while.”

Source: USA Today