24 in Non-Stop Action

Fox's real-time action hit 24 will kick off its second season with a commercial-free episode, network executives announced yesterday in an effort to jump start crucial, out-of-the-box ratings. 

The show featured Kiefer Sutherland as an undercover government agent who foiled an assassination attempt in 24 frenzied hours. The show was a critical hit but consistently struggled with ratings — perhaps due to its difficult storytelling format. 

With each single episode representing a key hour of detail and action in agent Jack Bauer's fight with terrorists, Fox execs said bringing viewers to that first episode is essential. 

The show debuted last year against a two-hour NYPD Blue special so the network was determined to attach as much buzz as possible to the next 24

Despite all the efforts of show producers to update new viewers to Bauer's on-going battle with bad guys, Fox officials said they need to cover all bases and shoot for big opening numbers. 

24 is to debut on Oct. 29. 

"By the time this ship sailed (debuted last season), it was in the public's head they could not join in progress," said Gail Berman, entertainment president of Fox Broadcasting, during a meeting with TV journalists yesterday. 

"And I hope this year people get on the train early and don't feel as committed to that position. It is possible to get into this television show even if you missed several episodes." 

The network yesterday also announced it was bringing back another edition of American Idol, an audience-participation talent show. 

The network has yet to settle on a format or hosts for the second Idol, which is set to air in the first quarter of 2003. 

Idol and 24 were two bright spots in an otherwise dreary Fox season. The network said goodbye to Fox trademark shows like X Files and Ally McBeal — both shows that went at least one season beyond their critical and ratings peaks. 

"It's always easy to play Monday morning quarterback. We certainly were disappointed in the results of each show," said Fox television chairman Sandy Grushow. 

"The 10, 11 shares that both of those shows did in the 18-to-49 demographic quite likely out-rated anything new that might have gone into each of their respective time periods."

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