Pop quiz: name the man who’s been a writer and/or producer for the following TV shows: “The Jackie Thomas Show,” “House of Buggin’,” “Dream On,” “Pinky and the Brain,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Lost,” “24.”
It’s David Fury, and he joins us today via phone from Hollywood.
BOB ANDELMAN: David, welcome to Mr. Media.
DAVID FURY: Thanks very much, Bob. I want to answer that question. I know, I know who that is.
ANDELMAN: And we will send you a prize, I promise.
FURY: Oh, thank you.
ANDELMAN: David, does Barack Obama’s presidential campaign send a commission on every dollar it collects to the producers of “24”?
FURY: No, not that I know of. How did Barack Obama come into this?
ANDELMAN: Well, I look at Barack Obama, and it seems like he’s had a very smooth sail in these first months of his presidential campaign, and it seems to me, and maybe I’m alone, that a lot of it has to do with “24” making it very comfortable for America to have an African-American president, twice even.
FURY: Interesting. Interesting premise. Well, I’d like to think that we’ve, as a country we’ve become more comfortable with the idea of bringing in presidential candidates from different walks of life, whether they be black or women or Asian or anything. If “24” has anything to do with it? All the better. I’d love to think that we’ve, to some extent we’ve matured enough that people are open to the idea.
ANDELMAN: It’s interesting. I mean, there hasn’t really been a situation in years past where an African-American would play the President and it wouldn’t be like a big deal, but now it’s like….
FURY: Well, there was Deep Impact I remember which had Morgan Freeman as President. My God, I would have voted for him right there if Morgan Freeman had run, such an excellent presidential candidate. Or James Earl Jones years ago in a movie called The Man.
ANDELMAN: I remember that.
FURY: I remember that, as well, so I don’t think we’re the first, certainly, to do it, but perhaps….
ANDELMAN: No, but it’s very matter of fact in “24.” I think in those previous settings, it was more, you know, “What?”
FURY: Well, certainly in The Man, it was very much evident that this was a racial issue and was telling a racial story. Morgan Freeman was handled matter-of-factly, and certainly David Palmer has been on the show. You may be right, you may have something to that.
ANDELMAN: Well, I do think you guys should get a commission. I think you should look into that.
FURY: All right.
ANDELMAN: I hear a lot that Republicans tend to love “24” because of its kind of take-no-shit approach to terrorism, and I wondered if the creative staff has a noticeable political bent.
FURY: Well, certainly a couple members of our staff lean very heavily toward the right, as there are a couple members that lean very heavily toward the left. We have a wide diversity of different political viewpoints. I don’t think Republicans, just simply Republicans love the show. I have heard that people as diverse as Barbra Streisand is apparently a big fan of the show.
ANDELMAN: I didn’t mean to suggest that only Republicans, by no means, but…
FURY: Everybody likes to filter their viewing of “24” through their own viewpoint, and we try to give a very diverse viewpoint on the show. Republicans will certainly embrace some of the more right wing aspects of “24,” the take-no-prisoners approach to terrorism, and there are others who recognize that that doesn’t work all the time. What you really have is somebody like Jack Bauer, who is serving the greater good but who has no particular political bent. I mean, David Palmer, I think, was always presented as, I think, a Democratic president, and Jack’s loyalty was to him for the most part for the first few years. Our executive producer/co-creator, Joel Surnow, is very vocal about his conservative Republican leanings, and he has a lot of friends of his who do enjoy the show and do think it supports their agenda. Although many of them criticized the show earlier this year, when we did the story line about Wayne Palmer’s sister who was voicing sort of the liberal bent, and her boyfriend, who was incarcerated along with other Muslim prisoners, we suspected to be involved with terrorism and then weren’t, I know Joel got a lot of criticism that, “What, is the show starting to lean toward the left? There are good Muslims that were over-reacting?” We’re trying to say that there’s no easy answers, basically, and some people look for answers in the show, and some people recognize that that’s just not going to come.
ANDELMAN: You don’t have to answer this, but where are you in your own political leanings?
FURY: I’m very moderate. I’m a registered Democrat. I suppose I’m conservative fiscally, and socially I’m much more moderate, so I am either a very liberal Republican or very conservative Democrat, I’m not quite sure.
ANDELMAN: Would it be a wrong guess that, politically, those writers’ room sessions could be pretty interesting conversations?
FURY: Oh, you have no idea! The debates that go on and on on a daily basis regarding whatever is going on in the current administration. There’s people, Evan Katz, another executive producer on the show, who definitely leans more toward the left, and he gets into a lot of debates with Joel and Manny Coto, another one of our co-executive producers who is a staunch Republican. And then you have somebody like Bob Cochran, the other co-creator, who is a Republican but much more moderate than other people. And then Howard Gordon, our show-runner, whose wife is very heavily involved with liberal causes — and Howard himself is a registered Democrat — supports Democratic causes. The conversation does lean toward political debates.
ANDELMAN: Did the conversation a few months ago about torture on the show come back to the writers’ room?
FURY: Oh, most definitely. We discussed it. Even when it came on and before it became an issue, before it was made into a news issue, the discussion whether torture works, about whether it should ever be used, and the moral ramifications. We discussed that at great length. Once it became more of an issue, I found myself defending our approach to it on a podcast and wound up on CNN News as the “writers of ‘24’ speak up on this controversy.” My contention was simply that we’re not trying to present a documentary or a realistic approach to fighting terrorism, we’re producing an evening of entertainment, and liberties have to be taken. The whole structure of the show, the ticking time clock and Jack Bauer fighting it the entire season, that’s something that just doesn’t happen in real life. There is no ticking clock, so there’s never any need to torture someone to get information out of them so quickly. You have to create scenarios where that would have to be, and at that point, you’re speaking in hyperbole.
ANDELMAN: I find the recovery from some of the torture sometimes to be entertaining. I keep thinking back to poor Morris getting that drill through his shoulder, but there he is back at work a few hours later (laughs).
FURY: Well, he’s a strong man, that Morris. Again, it’s the real challenge of the show, and certainly we’ve taken a lot more liberties later than earlier in the earlier years of the show where people do have to bounce back so that we can bring them back into the story. It’s very difficult if someone is tortured. Generally speaking, they’d be hospitalized, and you wouldn’t see them for several days, but of course, in a 24-hour period, you have to find ways to re-integrate them, and sometimes it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief to get those people back. Poor Milo was shot, and there he is with a sling, still back at work. We just have to chalk it up to, “Well, we’re understaffed, and we need you, and this is an emergency situation, and normally, we’d let you rest, but you can’t now.”
ANDELMAN: Well, and how often does Jack get hit in the head with a heavy metal object….
FURY: Oh, well, sure. My God, Jack never died and was revived and picked up a gun and went after the bad guys again.
ANDELMAN: Well, now, it’s funny you mentioned that, because I wanted to ask you the thing that has always driven me crazy, and I mean in a good way as a viewer, is that the CTU staff seems to have the worst institutional security in America. I mean, there’s spies, there’s moles, there’s data taps, and God forbid you’re a high-threat suspect and you get brought back to CTU for questioning, because you or somebody is going to die, right?
FURY: Yeah, that’s usually the case. The justification that’s been given to me when I bring these things up is that CTU is really an intelligence-gathering organization, and organizations like that aren’t really heavily fortified security-wise. I mean, certainly we do an excessive amount of it, but the idea that CTU cannot be breached because it’s such a top government agency is probably over-stating it, since what they mostly do, they are a branch office of an anti-terrorist intelligence-gathering organization. They do have a task force, but if we need their systems to be tapped for a story, we’ll do it. If we need someone to get into CTU to stage a gas attack, that’s going to be a lot more interesting than saying, “Well, it’s impossible to get into CTU, no one would ever be able to do that.” We have to make allowances like that for dramatic purposes. Well, it does make CTU look a little, well, inept, you know, and again, it’s the alternative is, well, if we show them being absolutely impenetrable, we’re going to be running out of story very quickly.
ANDELMAN: Well, and along that line, I think my favorite moment, and I think you may have written this episode, was a few weeks ago, Bauer and Doyle are driving Fayed back to CTU in a truck, and you just know they’re never going to make it there, because nobody ever makes it from point A to point B….
FURY: Nobody gets where they’re going, especially if you see them in the car on their way.
ANDELMAN: Well, yeah, exactly, and it was very funny, because it’s like the writers knew what viewers expected, and yet in this case, they turned those expectations upside down quite literally.
FURY: I knew that we had to when I was working on the story. I knew that really to make this thing work is to play off — and I approach this as a fan myself, say, “What is my expectation?” My expectation is that Fayed is going to be rescued by his men, then to turn that and to find out he’s not rescued by his men but it was staged, those are the ways that we try to hopefully keep acknowledging the story but also trying to keep everyone smart. It made CTU seem smart in trying this tactic. It made Fayed smart that he didn’t lead them right back to the bomb and to his men by winning the general’s okay. And then the general gives his distress code to Fayed, letting him know that this is all a trap. It was great fun to write, and I was very conscious when we were coming up with the story of trying to keep everybody smart, keep expectations there but find ways to twist them.
ANDELMAN: It seemed like that was one of those moments where your background as a stand-up comedian may have come in handy, because I laughed at that. It just cracked me up.
FURY: Well, I’m glad you got a laugh out of it. I rarely miss the opportunity to inject any kind of humor into the show, so I’ll take it where I can get it, quite frankly. But I see what you mean. It is the way I approached the story when I started writing “Hours” for “Buffy,” is finding the turns, finding the turns in the story, going with the expectations, and that’s where good comedy comes from, too. I mean, the sketches I used to write when I had sketch shows would have that same sort of thing, playing off expectations, buying the turn, and keeping the audience engaged.
ANDELMAN: Speaking of that, and the sketch show that I’m thinking of that you worked on was “House of Buggin’” with John Leguizamo, did you ever think you’d see him in a drama like “ER”?
FURY: Oh, yeah. John’s an incredibly versatile actor. Well, he had already done several dramas. He did Casualties of War with Michael Fox, he’s done some thrillers. I knew him as an improvisational actor in New York playing with a company, as did my wife. I think “First Amendment” was the name of the company off-Broadway, improv company, so I certainly knew he could do comedy, but drama, he’s a very talented guy, and there’s pretty much nothing John can’t do.
ANDELMAN: I was very surprised. I thought he carried off “ER” very well, and it was quite a surprise.
FURY: I didn’t see his run in “ER,” but I had no doubt he was strong. He’s best when, and quite frankly, as funny as he is, when it’s comedy, he loves to inject more of himself and re-write his lines, futz with the dialogue. I think probably when he does dramas, he’s far more studied, he’s far more tapping into his real talents as an actor.
ANDELMAN: As a co-executive producer and a writer, you were part of two different teams that won back to back Emmy Awards for Best Drama, “Lost” in 2005 and “24” in 2006. How on earth does that happen?
FURY: Well, I’d love to tell you that it was very calculated on my part, and I’m afraid I can’t. Other people have mentioned it, and I have questioned whether or not anyone else has won back to back Emmys on two separate shows. I don’t know how that happened except to say that I’d like to think that my influence on “Lost” for the first season was felt. I certainly enjoyed my time there. I loved writing the show, and when I regrettably moved to “24,” I tried to do the same. I tried to help make the show as great as it was, but it’s really about the people I’m surrounded with. I mean, I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by very brilliant writers, and really, you’re only as good as the people around you, I think. If my contribution somehow helped tip the scale, I’m very happy about that, but it couldn’t be done without the rest of the staff.
© 2007 by Bob Andelman. All rights reserved.
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Copyright 2007 Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman