Thursday, June 14, 2007

Meeting the Man Who Created Bauer

I never intended my tiny corner of the Internet to be a traditional blog, but occasionally things occur in my life that force me to make an exception. This week was one of those times.

On Wednesday morning, I was on assignment at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The objective: To interview Joel Surnow, co-creator of “24,” who has produced a stunt show for the amusement park making its debut this week.
This was an absolute dream-come-true situation. Not only is Surnow responsible for one of my favorite TV shows of all time, but he’s also a conservative, which by default makes him one of the gutsiest guys in Hollywood and one of my personal … “hero” isn’t the right word, but let’s just say I admire him a great deal for being a stranger in a strange land.
This was, as you might expect, a personal thrill and one of the highlights of my professional career to this point, but I tried not to get my hopes up; meeting famous people you respect from afar is a dangerous thing—if they turn out to be jerks, that encounter can cause a huge backdraft.
If, however, the guy turns out to be even cooler than you could have possibly hoped … well, it just doesn’t get better than that.

When I arrived at the park around 7:30 Wednesday morning, Surnow was already at the stunt show amphitheater, waiting for a live shot with a local Fox station scheduled for 8 a.m. Just by the way he was handling himself, I started to get a good vibe—he was talking casually with the actors/stuntmen in the show, taking pictures with them and looking generally congenial. I took that as a good sign.
After the live TV interview, I got my shot. I didn’t know what to expect—some bigwigs can make you feel like they’re doing you a favor by granting a five-minute interview. But Surnow was totally laid back and generous with his time. I think it may have helped that I introduced myself as not just a “24” fan, but a conservative as well. He seemed to light up a bit at that, letting out a big “duuuude!” (I kid you not). We talked about the new stunt show, “Operation SpyGirl,” for about six and a half minutes, and he answered all of my questions thoughtfully and completely.
I then asked one last question: What’s up with the “reinvented” “24”? He said—with a big just-you-wait grin on his face—next year is “going to be wild, it’s going to be amazing,” and “not like any season we’ve done before.” He said Day 7 will break some of the show’s own rules, go to other locales besides L.A., and have “a whole new look.”
So, with that excellent reply under my belt, I was ready to get out of his hair—and I told him as much. But he said he didn’t have anything to do just then, so we just kept on talking for five more minutes or so, about all sorts of issues: conservatives in Hollywood, global warming, the 2008 presidential election, and he even asked me what I thought of the finale of “The Sopranos.” Joel Surnow, asking ME what I thought of a major television event. I was stunned.

I know this whole thing sounds ridiculously gushy, but I don’t care. Pretty soon another reporter came up seeking an interview, ending our conversation, but I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Surnow was the exact opposite of what you would think the typical Hollywood bigshot would be like, and it makes me respect him even more. He could have just gone through the motions to get me out of his face, but this was a real, live conversation, not just some canned answers. He was actually listening to what I had to say and responding to it.

I’m on the record that Day 6 of “24” was certainly the weakest of the series’ seasons, but I’m pumped to see what this guy can come up with for Day 7. And regardless, those 15 minutes justified for me all the time and money and emotion I’ve invested in his show. After getting to meet the man behind “24” and have that encounter be such an amazingly positive experience, I’m in it for the long haul, come hell, high water, or the occasional misguided plot twist. Surnow has said in previous interviews that as soon as “24” flops, they’ll run him out of Hollywood. Well, I now have confirmation for what I always thought/hoped: He’s worth rooting for.

***As a side note, I got to hang around after the interview for a “SpyGirl” dress rehearsal. It was the first time Surnow saw the show start-to-finish, so it was fascinating to watch him get down to business, Jack Bauer-style. He was as nice as he could be while everyone was meandering around that morning, but as soon as the rehearsal was over, he got down to business, and fast—no screwing around.***

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