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’24’ creator Joel Surnow on his new creation, the 1/2 Hour News Hour, and reacting to the hit piece in the New Yorker.

Friday, February 16, 2007
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HH: Pleased now to welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show Joel Surnow, creator of ’24’, the series that America loves, and now the ½ Hour News Hour, which debuts on Sunday, February the 18th on the Fox News Channel at 10pm Eastern, 7pm Pacific. Joel, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JS: Thanks for having me, Hugh.

HH: You know, you’ve become like a whipping boy for the left recently. You’re just a television guy out there. How do you like this new attention?

JS: I don’t, but you know, it’s the price of doing business and having a show that still seems relevant after six years. We’re happy people are still talking, frankly.

HH: Oh, my goodness. It is relevant. We can do the whole show on Tuesday, every time you’re on Monday.

JS: That’s great.

HH: Joel, now, I am of course hoping that once this ½ Hour News Hour launches, that CTU will entertain the Hugh Hewitt Show broadcast from the CTU headquarters. I assume that’s possible.

JS: We’ve talked about it, I thought. Yeah, we talked about it through Cyrus, I think.

HH: Oh, that would be good. I’m looking forward to that.

JS: Yeah.

HH: Let’s talk a little bit about the ½ Hour News Hour. I want to come back to ’24’ in a moment, because Rush was talking about you and the Jane Mayer piece this morning. I want to go over that.

JS: Okay.

HH: ½ Hour News Hour – what’s your role in this?

JS: Manny Coto, another producer on ’24’, another writer and myself, about a year and a half ago, thought it would be great to be able to do some conservative comedy show, something like The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, that’s cute from the right, that hits some of these sacred cows that nobody seems to touch in any of the satire shows. We met a guy named Ned Rice, who’s been a sketch comedy writer for eight years on Politically Incorrect. He brought in a writer named Sandy Frank, who has won four emmy’s for his work on Letterman’s show. These guys are like us, they’re more conservative, they have a point of view that is not being heard on television, and we thought there’s no greater reward than to do something that’s not out there, that’s not just repeating somebody else’s success, but is carving and trying to stake out some new territory, which is what we’re trying to do with this thing.

HH: Now a drama that remains interesting for six years is hard, but funny is really hard. I mean, Colbert is really funny, Stewart is really funny.

JS: They’re great. They’re really brilliant, and you know…and the reason they’re successful is not because they have a liberal bias, or that they tilt one way or another, but because they’re funny.

HH: Yeah.

JS: And we will have to be held to the same standard. We’re not expecting anybody to watch us just because we make fun of global warming. You know, the show is going to succeed or not succeed based on the level of the talent of the people involved.

HH: Now I just got the screeners today, so I haven’t seen them yet, but promise me, or please tell me that you’re going to poke fun at the right, too, like at Lawnboy Rick Keller. Will you be taking shots at our dummies?

JS: No, not really.

HH: (laughing)

JS: I mean, you can get that anywhere. You know, I mean quite frankly, we’re not trying to be a balanced show. This is just what this show is. This show does skew from the right. Obviously, if it was, you know, when Dick Cheney had his hunting accident, you would have to do something like that, but that’s not the point of the show.

HH: All right, okay. Now who are your hosts?

JS: I mean, we’re balancing off all these thousands of other shows and comedians that talk about how stupid Bush is, and how…what a fascist Dick Cheney is. You can get that anywhere.

HH: Well yeah, I’m not…I’m not saying that stuff. I mean people who are obscure but our problem.

JS: Yeah.

HH: But anyway, you’ll focus on the left. Now tell me who are your leads? Who are your John Stewarts?

JS: We have two new young comic talents. The guy is Curt Long, and the female co-anchor is Jennifer Robertson. She’s new to America. She’s a Canadian. Curt’s been around for a while, very, very funny, very fresh, very winning, and I think that, you know, the show is in good hands with them as anchors.

HH: And how long is Fox (News) committed to you for?

JS: Listen, Ailes just picked us up for two episodes as a trial balloon, so it’s on this Sunday night, 7pm Pacific, 10pm Eastern, and it will repeat the following Sunday against the Academy Awards, and then our second show is on March 4th, again, Sunday, the same time.

HH: Interesting. And so then they’re going to sit down and decide whether or not this thing has legs…

JS: They’ll look at the ratings, and they’ll look at the response, and they’ll look and see the feedback they get anecdotally. And if they like it, they will pick it up. And if it doesn’t do well, then it’s a noble experiment that failed, or maybe not that noble.

HH: All right. How many writers are on it?

JS: Right now, there’s only two. I mean, we did this very lean and mean. If this goes to a weekly, obviously, we’re going to have to beef up our writing staff, and kind of collect a gallery of players that can be in all the episodes, actors and actresses, so…

HH: All right. Well, we’ll talk to Sandy Frank after the break, Ned Rice at the bottom of the hour, the two writers, about how you do this, but I want to go back now to ’24’. You’ve read the New Yorker piece, haven’t you?

JS: Yes, I have.

HH: What did you make of it?

JS: I kind of thought it was a hit piece, quite frankly.

HH: Well, of course it was.

JS: She…Jane Mayer came out to do what I was told was a story of what it’s like to be a conservative in Hollywood. And you know, I’m not…I don’t hide my politics. I mean, I have the ½ Hour News Hour. How could I? The fact is, is if you look at the cover of the New Yorker, the headline is Torture On ’24’.

HH: Right.

JS: So she had an axe to grind. I think the article is written…it made me sound kind of like a lunatic, and I don’t accept her premise that cadets are watching ’24’ in Baghdad and going off and torturing people because of what they see on TV. If that’s the case, then we’re in real trouble.

HH: Well, I think it is an insane premise…

JS: Yeah.

HH: And there would be evidence of that, by the way.

JS: Yeah.

HH: People would have come forward and said that you know, this is the powdered sugar donut defense.

JS: Well, the Army better get their stuff together if they can’t keep these professionals from doing that, and I think they do have their…have it together. I think it’s a wrong premise. I think at the core of it is there’s some, you know, ‘the military is dumb, and that we need censorship from conservative writers.’

HH: Now I want to go back, though, to why you agreed, because I’ve been profiled by the New Yorker, but I was taken…profiled by the guy who runs Columbia School of Journalism, and I know him, and he’s a Harvard guy.

JS: Probably stupid ego, Hugh.

HH: Well, candor is good.

JS: Yeah, I think I was probably flattered by the idea of doing a piece. You know, I was also looking to promote ½ Hour News Hour. I knew it was going to come around the same time, you know, I think I’ve never had any problem being a conservative in Hollywood. I’ve been treated fairly, I don’t, you know, I don’t see any downside for anybody, you know, I’ve had lots of lively debate over the years with a lot of my friends in the business. So I didn’t really see any downside of it, and then as she started asking questions and questioning other people around me, I realized that this thing was taking on an angle that was really suspect. But she didn’t even get the stuff right about me, you know. She makes me sound like I converted to Catholicism, which I haven’t, and that the rich kids beat me in tennis, and that’s why I became a conservative. I mean, it’s just…absurd. She put…it’s conspiracy theory writing.

HH: Had you read her stuff on Clarence Thomas?

JS: No, I hadn’t.

HH: Oooh.

JS: Yeah.

HH: No research. Oh, okay.

JS: Yeah.

HH: Well, live and learn.

JS: I was a dummy.

HH: Back to Bauer and the series.

JS: Where were you when I needed you, Hugh?

HH: (laughing) I’m very leery of the media for a lot of reasons.

JS: Yeah.

HH: But we all live and learn. When you do these shows, do you get a lot of reaction from the American military? Do you have a big fan base in the American military?

JS: We have a tremendous fan base with the American military, and we have a tremendous relationship with them. We’ve used a lot of military, you know, we’ve shot up at Point Mugu, and we’ve got F-16’s, fly-bys that we used in the show. Almost every season we’re doing something with the military. We have a tremendous rapport with them.

HH: All right. Now I want to get to what my friends at a Christian apologetics group, Stand To Reason, always say about your show, which is that Jack Bauer almost always makes the morally correct choice at the moment that he has to make a morally correct choice. So this season, for example, the helicopter scene…a bunch of them. Is that on your mind? Or do your writers just try and move the plot along?

JS: No, we like to think that what we do best is put Jack in a position where he has to make a horrible choice. I mean, he’s faced with Sophie’s choice almost every episode. You know, do I kill two people to save a hundred? I mean, that’s sort of the premise of the show. And in some twisted universe, there is a morality to what he does.

HH: And are you sitting there with the writers each week?

JS: I’m one of the writers, yes.

HH: So you’re second-guessing…you’re part of whether or not, and this iterates, right, every week, or every two weeks, you’re…

JS: Absolutely. I mean, every day we sit in the room and we spin out dilemmas for Jack to face or for our characters to face. And we like to feel like…that we don’t do these things cavalierly, and that when Jack makes horrible choices, he pays for them. This is a haunted guy. This is a tragic man.

HH: And will we be seeing Jack the early years? Because now I’m interested in that family dynamic from the time he was ten with Rocket Romano.

JS: (laughing) That’s going to be a little hard. We don’t have a time machine, so…

HH: It’s like the Batman thing. They went backwards on that thing.

JS: Yeah.

HH: Now how many years do you expect to keep doing this?

JS: You know what? We’ll keep doing it as long as we’re inspired by the stories. The great thing about us, our show, is that we have a new cast of characters each season, we don’t have to tell the same story year in and year out.

HH: And in one minute, Joel Surnow, what’s your objective? What do you want, you know, your reputation to be?

JS: Oh, I just want to entertain people. I…you know, politics aside, even on ½ Hour News Hour, the whole thing is either to make people laugh or make people feel something, move people in some way. That’s the greatest reward we get, besides being able to work, and doing something as fun as what we do, is when people say your show just…I’m addicted to your show, I love your show, I can’t get enough of it.

HH: Well, I’m addicted to your show, I love your show.

JS: And that’s the…how great is that? And I’m sure you have the same feeling, Hugh.

HH: It’s a lot of fun, and we hope someday to broadcast from CTU.

JS: Thanks a lot, Hugh.

HH: Joel Surnow, good luck on the ½ Hour News Hour, first episode on February 18th.

End of interview.

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