Fox's much-hyped new series takes the viewer through one day as Jack Bauer. 

On the Clock

If you didn't see the debut episode of "24" on Fox, it wasn't because the network didn't try really hard.

Fox generated as much buzz for "24" as CBS did in advance of the debut of "Survivor." Then they aired the initial episode not once but twice. And then FX aired it twice.

So if you missed it, maybe it's time to take off that gas mask and come up out of your bomb shelter.

"24" didn't live up to the expectations fostered by Fox, but then no program could. Nevertheless, the series holds its own: It's jam-packed with action, adventure and something to appeal to everyone from political junkies to techno-freaks to adrenaline addicts to teens.

The premise has its appeal. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who heads up the government's Counter Terrorist Unit, is talking to his 15-year-old daughter Kimberly (Elisha Cuthbert) about why she shouldn't blame her mother for her parents' marital difficulties. Kimberly tells her dad she's going to bed, but instead sneaks out of the house to hook up with her friend Janet, who has arranged a late-night rendezvous with two college boys.

Just about the time Jack and his wife, Teri (Leslie Hope), discover that Kimberly is missing, the phone rings. Jack is summoned to the office to deal with a threat on the life of presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), the first African-American with a realistic chance to win the White House. And to make the plot even thicker, somebody inside his own agency might be in on the plot to assassinate Palmer.

The opening episode ended when a woman passenger on a flight over the Mojave Dessert overpowered a flight attendant, blew a door off the plane and parachuted out into the darkness. Why? We don't know yet, but we'll surely find out in episode two.

The shtick that sets "24" apart from other TV shows is that each one-hour episode is devoted to one hour in "real time." Over the course of this season, we'll see 24 episodes covering one full day in Bauer's life. Hence the title.

This is not the first time that TV has experimented with the time element in a series. Fans of "M*A*S*H" will recall a half-hour episode of the series that featured a real-time clock ticking in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. And others may recall a 1995 series on ABC that devoted a full season to the investigation of a single crime.

But while "24" may purport to unfold in real time, it actually doesn't. If you keep an eye on the clock on the screen and the clock on your wall, you'll see that "24" gets ahead by two or three minutes before each commercial break — for obvious reasons. And you can bet there will be other "real time" lapses, too.

There will come a time when the characters have to eat. And they'll have to go to the bathroom, too. But let's not go there. And let's hope the cameras don't either.



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