The Creators of ‘Homeland’ Exorcise the Ghost of ‘24’

Howard Gordon at 2012 Summer TCA Tour - Day 10

How much are the writers’ individual politics a factor in the room? Do things ever get politically heated?
GANSA: I’ll let Howard speak to the “24” room, because that was a much more politically charged story environment. There were people who had very different and divergent opinions in that room, and there were a lot of real, real conservative types, and some real, real lefty types. And that led to some really interesting conversations. I’m sort of sad to say it’s a much more homogeneous group on “Homeland.” But we try really hard to not be polemic or didactic in any way. We choose to ask questions and not answer them.

GORDON: The thing on “24,” it was a divergent group of political beliefs, but I don’t think that affected the story. Occasionally, maybe. But we all recognized that storytelling is agnostic. Once you start dressing it up as a platform for some kind of ideology or point of view, it becomes propaganda, and I think the audience can smell when it’s counterfeit like that.

Claire Danes (Homeland) and Kiefer Sutherland (24)
Claire Danes (Homeland) and Kiefer Sutherland (24)

On “24” a lot of the plot lines were attributed to politics — did that ever make you. . . .
GORDON: Crazy? It was particularly disturbing to me, because the charges were as broad as stoking Islamophobia and being a midwife to a public acceptance of torture. Obviously anyone with any conscience is going to take these seriously. But look, we also recognized too that you can’t just hide behind, ‘‘This is just TV show.’’ That’s a little like the Twinkie defense. So we actively engaged and reconsidered how we told stories.

Some people have suggested that “Homeland” is in a kind of conversation with “24” about those issues.
GANSA: I certainly believe that because “Homeland” dealt with the same issues “24” did, it was conceived in reaction to that show. And we talked about this frankly at the beginning. Jack Bauer is an action hero. And that is not Carrie Mathison. Her intelligence work, her defense of the country, is from the neck up.

GORDON: It’s easy to connect the dots, but it’s a little apples and oranges. “24” was a show with a very interesting and unique concept but one that was fundamentally kind of absurd. The idea that 24 hours of story can actually happen, with a beginning, middle and end, in 24 hours, is fundamentally a fantasy. [Creating “Homeland”] Alex and I had the benefit, in a way, of being in the world 10 years later, after Guantánamo, after Abu Ghraib, after two wars in various states of winding down, and the consequences of those wars were being understood. Carrie lives in a world where torture is no longer tolerated. And she lives in a world where everything doesn’t happen in 24 hours.

Source New York Times


Comments Closed
Very interesting interview there, it’s funny that the Left accused ’24’ of being anti-Islamic and pro-torture right-wing propaganda (which is absurd when you actually watch it), whilst some elements on the Right have accused ‘Homeland’ of being pro-Islamic anti-American left-wing propaganda (a trap I unfortunately once fell into)… and the truth they are neither!

’24’ is representative of America at the outset of the War on Terror, a more let’s-go-get-’em attitude, whilst ‘Homeland’ is more representative of current-day America, a tired, battered, and war-weary country that’s now asking tough and hard questions of itself a decade into a bloody conflict that has seemingly no end in sight (even after leaving Afghanistan and Iraq).

I was pleased to hear both Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon insist they never pushed, or are pushing, a one-sided political agenda, and I believe them, it’s not propaganda to ask tough questions of one’s country or culture… and neither ’24’ nor ‘Homeland’ are any more commentaries on American foreign policy than James Bond is a commentary on U.K. foreign policy – would be nice if it was though; kill the bad guys, drink lots of martinis, travel the world on the taxpayer’s dime, and nail anything with a heartbeat:-).

Very good article…and very good reply – as usual – by Gerry !

As a French fan (left and right are very different in France than in US), I’ve always though that 24 was not a right wing series. Some examples:

In season 2 the authors allow themselves to criticize the Bush policy … in real time: in 2003, Palmer is pushed by his generals to attack some Middle East countries, yet he refuses before having the formal proof of their responsibility in a previous attack against the US, ie, exactly the opposite of Bush attacking Iraq as the same time the series is broadcast!

As for the villains, they are far from being all Muslims: Serbs, Chechens, Mexican, but also American businessmen. In season 2, oil tycoons manipulate an Islamist group against the US, in season 5, the (WASP and look like Nixon)President himself is behind the attacks, in season 7 it’s a private US army, a copy of Blackwater, that threatens the country.

In every season American help terrorists for money, while Muslims help Jack Bauer (S2,4,6,7). This culminates in season 7, where Jack Bauer, dying, confesses to… an imam!!

But, IMO, 24 is not apolitical, it’s anchored in a very specific political reality, the post 09/11 traumatized America and 24 reflects for 9 years, real-time contradictions and changes in U.S. policy.

I agree with both Gerry and Catherine. Even though I believe that season 6 had too much torture, I still thought it was a very strong season. A study of Bauer’s psyche and what drives him. The story of a broken man with no home.

Just as an aside: I adore the scene with the Iman. It almost drove me to tears and it is so symbolic. The man who has fought terrorists, who are stereotyped as being muslims, making peace with God through a muslim. Wow… I love this show.

Catherine, how does the Left and Right differ in France than their equivalent in America, just interested to know?

And 24Bauerfan, that’s a great summation of Season 6, and despite that season’s considerable narrative missteps – the evil father and his grandson fixation, killing Graem WAY too early, too many romantic entanglements and/or feelings between characters – I forgive them because of THAT ending, oh how I love that ending; “I want my life back… and if you send someone after me, I’ll kill them, pretty good at that too”… was ’24’ ever as simultaneously powerful and profoundly sad as this, a broken man with no home indeed!

I am a liberal and I never felt like I was watching right-wing propaganda when I watched 24.

I love the “I’ll kill them, pretty good at that too..” Jack knows he’s a good killer, he wants to escape that and all the terrible things he had to do to save innocent lives, that makes him a tragic hero..I love that !

For Gerry: in France Obama would be Right wing :) and Romney..we have very few politicians like him !

To make it short, in France everybody, the right and the left, wants to have social security, and free education for example. Our former president Sarkozy ( a big fan of 24 !)was right wing but he kept free health care, free schools and colleges.

If you have more questions ask me it’s a pleasure to speak with you !

Ah, I see now, cheers for that Catherine :-)…

>>> 24′ is representative of America at the outset of the War on Terror, a more let’s-go-get-’em attitude,

Which is intrinsically a very right wing attitude.

Anyway, I have an anti-torture stance but that was not really the reason I was not annoyed with the depiction of the torture in 24. 24 should be criticized by putting plenty of torture scenes in the show but during majority of its run not doing anything substantial with it other than some cheap dramatics for entertainment. Most of the torture in the show barely went above the usual “Bauer Power Hour” and “how far Jack will go this week” popcorn stuff. I would much prefer them to have a straight-up pro-torture stance rather than making Jack look like a cool badass torturer for audience entertainment.

24 did a great job of showing both sides of politics. We all know that co-creator Joel Surnow is a staunch conservative but other writers and much of the cast leaned to the left, while others to the right. So there are moments when both sides of politics have slipped in to the story.

I do find it funny though that the show’s best president, David Palmer, was a Democrat while the show’s worst, Charles Logan, was a Republican. And the other two Republican presidents, John Keeler and Alison Taylor, well we end up not liking them either.

Ozgur dude, where do I start? I stand by my assessment of ’24’ as very reflective of most of America after 9/11, they DID want to go get those responsible for the horrors committed that terrible morning, if you think that’s “right-wing”, well, there’s a difference between having an opinion and just being opinionated… I’ll let you decide which category you fall into. And you seem not to actually LIKE ’24’ that much – judging by your highly critical posts – which makes me wonder why you post on a site ABOUT ’24’, forgive me if I’m reading you wrong here, just calling it as I see it…

Sorry, but the “go, get them” attitude just ended up with a show whose protagonist handled the terrorists with a violent, brash and unlawful manner year after year while the real US at that time was going and getting real terrorists by invading countries. Of course, this show would rightfully called as “right wing” then, definitely more so in the earlier seasons.

About the harsh criticism of 24. Look, this website is “about discussing 24” and that is what I am doing, I did not know discussing about 24 was just reserved for people who liked 24 unconditionally. Complaining about that even makes less sense in this thread because this post is about about the political nature and the depiction of violence/torture in 24. One should accept the fact someone would have a negative opinion of the show in such a controversial topic.

As for myself, I revoked my fancard after the dreadful season 6 and 8 and re-positioned myself as just as a 24 viewer who had watched this show over 10 years. There were certain aspects of the show that I really really liked and certain aspects of the show that I truly despised. And I think I do have the right to express the aspect that soured my from the show, you know in a website about 24.

Fair enough, Ozgur sir, I wasn’t having a go at you, apologies if it came across that way.

But I still feel you’re mistaken about the earlier seasons of ’24’ – or any season for that matter – being “right-wing”, for goodness sake’s, the whole ‘Cyprus recording’ plotline in Season 2 was being played out as a similar race to war was happening in the real world… an extraordinarily bold and daring move on the writer’s part, I think!

And as for Jack Bauer going after terrorists in a “violent, brash and unlawful manner year after year”, follow me here, Ozgur… IT’S ONLY A TELEVISION SHOW, do you assign the same level of socio-political subtext to James Bond, is he a representation of British colonialist and imperialist sentiment (like Matt Damon seems to think)!? I think you need to lighten up and enjoy ’24’ for what it is; the best television series, by far, of the last decade.

And I respect your view on Season 6, I know the majority opinion is against it, but Season 8 was (largely) a real return to form. You and I have discussed the eighth season here before, so I know how you feel about it, but personally, I thought it was a remarkably strong season overall… and the last nine episodes were absolute dynamite, but that’s just my opinion!

So is 24 justifying torture ? I don’t think so

I would say that 24 does not justify torture…no more than The Godfather is a justification for the Mafia.

Torture in 24 is a dramatic device, used to make Jack Bauer a tragic and dark hero, torn between the lifes he has to save and the extreme acts he has to do to achieve it. And what could be more extreme than torture for a character portrayed as honest and human?

24 shows that the war it’s getting its hands dirty, even if we are on the right side, there is no clean war, nor pure heroes: 24 is a reflection of the horrors of war not a justification.’s me or I feel like a cristism in what Gordon says about 24 compared with Homeland ???

Everyone has mentioned numerous good points. As for the writing staff, Manny Coto (Star Trek: Enterprise) and co-creator Joel Surnow were really the only true conservatives while the rest of the staff including Gordon were liberal but were subtle or preferred to keep it secret.

Emmy-winning co-star Cherry Jones once made note of how the writers tried to not resurge or make extra note of which political affiliation each president had since it would otherwise be distracting or just far from the points they were trying to make.

I love all the seasons although I feel like the last one doesn’t really find it’s voice until the very end where it shows that regardless of what an American hero stands for, even they can go off the deep end when their current administration has corrupt underlings working for it (Logan).

Hell, there’s another notice, the presidents that betrayed America’s trust were both Presidents Logan and Taylor were both Conservative
while David Palmer basically equated to that of Bill Clinton where he did lots of good for the country and his only career-damaging move was the Day 3 scandal.

Wayne Palmer, while being of the Democratic Party, also appeared to rival that of George W. Bush where he failed to live up to a previous family member’s mostly successful administration.

I have rewatched all the seasons from last year and Season 6, while always the weakest, always had some moments which I liked but after reseeing it, I especially feel like it was too far ahead of it’s time in showcasing what missteps any Homeland Security could enforce, a country in turmoil with all the racist tension towards Islamic faith (the opening scene where the bus driver refuses to let a passenger of said entity board says it all) and like Day 2 and Day 4, they reused a lot of the sleeper cell neighbors and Vice President trying to succeed the Commander In-Chief’s seat in office but not being anywhere near prepared to deal with the scenario.

Also, something has to be said for actors of all political affiliation finding the show’s material to be very groundbreaking and great to play off of (i.e. Dennis Hopper, Janeane Garofalo, Jon Voight). Mary Lynn Rajskub even changed her party affiliation and Kiefer Sutherland was always saying in interviews that unlike Surnow’s supposed Conservative background for the character, Kiefer’s real-life Liberal values echoed that of Bauer in the end scheme of things and James Morrison (Bill Buchanan) also said that people were doing the old-fashioned technique of labeling the show without ever seeing it or based on the channel affiliates alone.

People also claim it’s all right-wing propaganda with the Fox News ads in various episodes but that’s because (WAKE-UP CALL!), it’s a 20th Century Fox property and had it been an NBC Universal property, they would’ve arguably done the same thing by having MSNBC ads inserted in there somewhere.