Exclusive: Cover Story

'24': A Day in the Life

Spend 24 hours inside the pressure-packed world of the makers of ''24.'' A minute-by-minute report from the set of TV's most controversial hit show, from choreographing a Bauer brawl, to the writers' war room, to... the Wiggles?

'JUST ANOTHER DAY' Shoot-outs... Kicks to the head... Knees to the gut... All in a day's work for Sutherland's Bauer (with Rajskub as CTU cohort…
Image credit: ANTHONY MANDLER
'JUST ANOTHER DAY' Shoot-outs... Kicks to the head... Knees to the gut... All in a day's work for Sutherland's Bauer (with Rajskub as CTU cohort Chloe)

With its super-energized mix of nuclear blasts, assassination attempts, and triple-digit body counts, 24 always manages to get the blood pumping. Especially that of its critics. Indeed, Fox's real-time action-adventure drama starring Kiefer Sutherland seems to generate controversies like, well, clockwork. Before season 1 even launched, a scene featuring a terrorist parachuting out of an exploding plane was called into question (and reedited) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. During season 4, Muslim-Americans expressed concern over being portrayed as sleeper-cell terrorists. And this year, human rights advocacy groups and the military have criticized 24 for its frequent depictions of torture; some have even claimed those methods influence the way U.S. soldiers acquire intelligence in Iraq.

24 consistently offers plenty of onscreen food for thought, but what goes on behind the scenes of the provocative drama? Do the people who bring Jack Bauer to life also experience pulse-pounding action on a daily basis? To find out, we armed an elite team of reporters with all-access codes and a simple mission: Tail the writers, producers, actors, and stuntmen of TV's most adrenalized series for, yes, 24 hours. We staked out the 24 production-office HQ in Chatsworth, Calif., where top secret story lines were being crafted, and gathered intel from a set visit 35 miles away, where the cast and crew were filming a high-octane scene for episode 18. What we uncovered were highly skilled individuals who approach their jobs with tactical precision and troubleshoot their way through tight deadlines, hospital detours, and even writer's block. To experience a 24 day — Feb. 7, to be exact — in real time, read on. Time's a-tickin'...

06:15am Home of 24 executive producer Howard Gordon.
Gordon half-watches a DVD of the Wiggles titled Yummy Yummy with his 2-year-old son while taking notes on the script for episode 19. The day commences.

08:00am On location — Vernon, Calif.
The special F/X crew pulls into an abandoned ammunition factory just outside of downtown L.A. The factory — which the crew rigged over the past two days for $30,000 — will double as one of 24's omnipresent ''warehouses'' where Bauer's many enemies always seem to set up shop. And it'll be the setting of a bruising battle between Jack (Sutherland) and his nuke-happy nemesis, Abu Fayed (Adoni Maropis), which the stunt team choreographed here yesterday. The F/X crew starts loading boxes and barrels with wires attached to ''squibs'' — cork with explosive charges that simulate bullet hits. ''We have a walk-through and they figure out what they want so we can prep for it,'' special F/X coordinator Scott Blackwell explains. ''And then they change everything anyway.''

10:00am Freeway.
A hyped Maropis drives to the location in Vernon. As he cruises along the freeway, tears form in his eyes as he thinks about his alter ego's state of mind. ''I've gone to the depths of hell for this guy,'' he says. ''[Bauer] killed and tortured my brother.'' This torture, which was — for once, perhaps — not actually shown on screen, is part of Fayed's backstory. Maropis tries to pull back his emotions, thinking, Save it, save it. Plus, he notes, ''people drive by and see you crying, and you wonder what they're thinking, like, Poor guy.''

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