'24' and Holding: Sutherland's Sweet Deal

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, April 11, 2006

One of prime time's most rewarding drinking games is guaranteed to continue at least long enough to get this year's crop of college freshmen through their senior year, with the signing of Kiefer Sutherland to star in Fox's "24" through the 2008-09 season.

Sutherland could become the highest-paid actor in a drama series under terms of the deal, according to the trade papers, citing "sources" -- which, on these kinds of stories, is often a euphemism for "the actor's talent agency" or "the studio that's going to put out the news release nationwide the next day."

Anyway, these sources said that in addition to an acting salary, Sutherland will be promoted from co-executive producer to exec producer on the series.

Naturally, executive producers make more money.

Ka-ching!

Plus, 20th Century Fox Television, the News Corp. division that produces "24" for the News Corp.-owned Fox broadcast network, will pay the overhead of Sutherland's brand-new TV production company as part of a two-year "development deal."

Ka-ching!

At his new production company, Sutherland will develop series for Fox, other networks, the Internet, wireless devices and pretty much anyone else who'll take a meeting with Sutherland's soon-to-be-named TV series development chief.

These outfits are called vanity production companies. In Hollywood, you can't swing a dead purse-dog without hitting a star of a prime-time TV hit who has a vanity production company.

Then, 20th Century Fox TV is going to pay Sutherland's shingle a "development fund" to help the new operation realize his vision.

Ka-ching!

Meanwhile, Fox has a deal for only one more season of the hit serialized drama, in which is played out, over the course of 24 episodes, one day -- one really bad day -- in the life of Counter Terrorism Unit special agent Jack Bauer.

Mr. "The Only Reason That You're Conscious Right Now Is Because I Don't Want to Carry You." Mr. "When I'm Finished With You, You're Gonna Wish You Felt This Good Again."

And yet, in this season's really lousy day, macho Jack so far has been unable to thwart the assassination of President of the United States David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), or the deaths of Edgar Stiles (Louis Lombardi), Walt Cummings (John Allen Nelson), Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard), Michelle Dessler (Reiko Aylesworth) and, last and least, Lynn McGill (Sean Astin).

Not that the days chronicled in Seasons 1, 2, 3 or 4 went much better for our hero.

Is it any wonder Jack shouts "Damn it!" so often each episode (as in "Damn it, Chloe!")?

Hence the popular drinking game.

In yesterday's announcement, 20th Century Fox TV President Dana Walden called Sutherland "fiercely intelligent," while 20th Century Fox TV's other president, Gary Newman, said he bet Sutherland "could become every bit as accomplished a producer as he is a performer."

And Sutherland said he was "thrilled" to "extend my commitment to all my friend and colleagues at '24.' "

A pool of colleagues that, what with so many of the show's old-timers getting killed off this season, has shrunk considerably. Which, in one of those happy coincidences that make covering the TV industry so satisfying, has probably helped keep the talent costs down, freeing up some coin to pay Sutherland his hefty salary increase.

In its fifth season, the audience for "24" is up noticeably, to more than 14 million from last year's season-to-date average of 12.3 million.

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