‘24: Legacy’ Producer Howard Gordon Talks Eric Carter, ‘Homeland’ Hero Peter Quinn, and Writing TV Dramas in a Divisive Political Climate

Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the “Noon – 1:00 PM” and “1:00 PM – 2:00 PM” episodes of 24: Legacy.

We’re two episodes into 24: Legacy, and while Jack Bauer will always loom large over the 24 universe, new world-saving action star Corey Hawkins, as Army Ranger-turned-domestic hero Eric Carter, is also making things feel a little safer. Well, in TV land, anyway.

24: Legacy executive producer Howard Gordon, who’s been with 24 since its 2001 premiere, talked to Yahoo TV about launching Fox’s reboot series, the layers we’ll see unfold around the complicated Mr. Carter, the very delicate balancing act of pleasing long-time 24 fans and keeping the real-time format franchise fresh, the impending return of 24 baddie Tony Almeida, and whether or not we’ll hear Jack Bauer even mentioned on the new series.

Gordon, who’s an EP on Homeland as well, also talked about that show’s tragic hero, the severely injured fan favorite Peter Quinn, and hints at further big developments with him on the Showtime drama this season.

The first time you hear the countdown clock in the 24: Legacy premiere, you are reminded how much you’ve missed the show, the real-time format, the action. Did you and everyone else working on the show have that reaction, too? Yes. In all honesty, we’re very aware of our own attachments to [the original] show, and we wanted to find ways to make this its own show. That’s been a process, and I think it’s a process that we’re going to discover hopefully between seasons, as well. Which is to say, yes, continue what’s familiar and terrific about it, but also take on the challenge of finding the new things inside that format. I think it’s a combination of the two, and we’re trying to find what works, and what needs to be re-invented or revised and moved into the future. It really has to do with mining this character, and finding out who he is. I think that’s going to be the work of not just the first season, but hopefully subsequent seasons.

Eric’s wife, Nicole, tells Eric’s brother, Issac, that she has realized Eric isn’t suffering from PTSD, but that he misses the adrenaline, the action of wartime. Isaac is a major drug dealer, operates in a dangerous world, too, and he hinted that Eric was involved in that business until he decided he wanted a better life for Nicole. Is it unfolding that Eric maybe chose being a special ops soldier as a way to channel the same impulses, behaviors that propel Issac in the drug business, into something more selfless, more acceptable? Yeah, very much so. It’s not just the education of the spy, but also somebody who becomes… self-aware. In a way, there’s a tragic element, because when you realize that this is something that’s inside you, but that you’re also capable of loving someone… I don’t want to spoil something, so let me just stick with this: yes.

There’s also a sense with Miranda Otto’s character, Rebecca, that, like Eric, she is having a hard time letting go of her work. One of the themes this year is, you think you’re clear from your past or from who you are, and often those assumptions are kind of challenged by the events of the day.

How did Miranda’s involvement with 24: Legacy come about? Did it happen while she was on Homeland? No, she wrapped on Homeland — capital letter “Wrapped” — and so she was available, and we wound up breaking our cardinal rule, which is, by and large, not to cast people from one show to the next, Homeland and 24. Especially people who are so identified with their characters. I probably would on a different type of show, but since those shows have some residence with each other, I thought it might be confusing. But ultimately, she’s such a terrific actress, and so wonderful to work with, that we broke our own rule.

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You really do have an embarrassment of riches with this cast. Gerald McRaney playing Jimmy Smits’ dad, with Jimmy Smits as a presidential contender — that could be its own series. Dan Bucatinsky’s Andy, who brings that kind of quirkiness that we loved with Chloe in the original series. We also get a little nod to Edgar Stiles (RIP). We know Tony Almeida is coming back at some point in the season. Is that intentional, to lay those little Easter eggs for viewers who have been with the series since the beginning? Yes. Again, one of the challenges of the show is to not rely on those at all, but to sort of, when it’s organic and when the story calls for it, give something to the fans of the old show, who want to remember it.

Will we ever hear Jack Bauer’s name mentioned? I hope so, but not at the moment, no.

There is no lack of good, action-filled drama series on TV right now, Homeland being among them. The 24: Legacy premiere ends with that really cool scene with Eric shooting the rope holding a giant pipe, turning the pipe into a weapon when it drops to the ground. Given all the things you’ve already done on the original 24, and Homeland, how do you come up with fresh ideas for things like that? You know, it is very, very challenging. Alex [Gansa], who runs Homeland, is doing it brilliantly. I’m kind of in awe of the job he continues to do, mining territory that’s new. You’re right, you can’t repeat yourself, or your characters grow in one direction. Finding new ways to tell the stories becomes quite a bit harder. I think it’s why you see so many shows fall off, because at that level, trying to keep it fresh, television like this is a high wire. Story’s the main thing, and you have to challenge yourself. Also, how do you keep people interested? The metric becomes more emotional, like, what are those questions that you are interested in exploring as a writer? Chances are if you are interested, it will be interesting for actors to play and people to watch.

For you as a writer, what are the things that you find interesting about the 24 universe at this point? I would say what’s interesting for me about the series is seeing where to take this character, Eric Carter — mining for who he is and how he’s different from Jack Bauer — and how the form, the real-time format, can still be explored.

Speaking of forms and formats, you created a 24: Legacy VR prequel, The Raid, which adds a lot to the experience of watching the series, and getting to know Eric. I don’t play a lot of video games or watch war-themed films, so this is a cool way to get a sense of just how chaotic and disorienting and dangerous a special ops mission can be. That was tremendous, tremendous fun. To take an entirely new medium, which really has its own dramatic requirements, and possibilities, and also its limitations, and explore those… I loved it, and, I think, it came out well. It intuitively sounded to me like a terrific idea. When we had the first meeting, I thought of “the raid” right away. Not just in terms of exactly what you’re saying, but also its aim felt right for the idea of getting in and getting out, a real-time experience.

We have to talk a bit about Homeland. Viewers are so invested in Quinn. Rupert Friend, I think, is breaking everyone’s heart every minute he’s on screen this season. But the bigger picture is this acknowledgment of just what can happen to guys like Quinn, who sacrifice so much, and end up in crushing situations, abandoned by a lot of people. It’s made for an incredibly sad, but compelling season so far. It’s one of the themes of the show, originally reflected through Brody and Carrie, that question of the price you pay for service and for putting yourself out there. Rupert was just a wonderful addition to the cast. We’re so lucky, and he has become a favorite of so many. People just love the guy, and he’s just a really talented actor.

Related: ‘Homeland’ Review: A New Season of Pain and Deceit

Was that a decision you made for this season, to play out this storyline with Quinn as a way to keep the character alive, and to explore his experience as a theme of this season? I don’t think it’s as conscious [as that]. I mean, we knew the character [was alive], so you ask yourself, where is the character now? How does he relate to the other characters? Carrie had that very important moment when she actually did save him. She bears a special responsibility and connection to him.

When we last saw him, he had acquired a gun, and was following someone who, it seems, he thinks is going to try to harm Carrie. Maybe there was a bit of the old Quinn still percolating in there. Then again, we know he’s having emotional issues. We’re not really sure how severe his brain injuries are. Can you say anything about that? About where he is going in the immediate future? I’ll say it gets really interesting. And I’m saying that as someone who cannot claim much credit for having authored it. I did not write on the show this year; I’m just a fan. I don’t think there’s a bigger fan of the show than me. So again, I say that as a fan, as someone who really has a distance from it.

Back to 24: Legacy, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) is jumping into the storyline soon. Any hint about his return to the 24 universe? Again, it’s one of those things where the challenge was in not just bringing Tony back because he was on the [original], but finding something organic to bring him back. It’s sort of the same answer I gave you about Quinn, that he is still alive. It starts with these questions: where would he be? Where could he be? It turns out that he shares a past with one of the characters that becomes relevant to the story. There was a very organic way to bring him in this year.

The original 24 premiered less than a couple of months after 9/11, and obviously it was a sensitive topic for that time. 24: Legacy is premiering in the most divisive political climate most of us have experienced. Did that affect the way you approached it at all, as the election unfolded in the fall? No, by then the train was on the track. We’re writing about something that is very sensitive. When I say something, terrorism, but also, the portrayal of Muslims on television. So, I think it continues to be a challenge to the extent that you’re writing a show about counter-terrorism. I think it really even comes upon us to not traffic in — I don’t know what’s the best way to say it — reductive, or incendiary characterizations. I think that continues to be a challenge that we don’t always meet as well as we could. And I’m answering the question because we’re at a time in which these very questions are at the center of our natural conversation.

24: Legacy airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox. Homeland airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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