'Tyrant,' '24,' 'Homeland' Producer Howard Gordon Talks Controversies, Jack Bauer's Future, 'Homeland' Mommyhood, and Juggling Four TV Dramas

'Tyrant,' '24: Live Another Day,' 'Homeland,' and 'Legends'

As this summer's TV lineup, with dozens of new and returning dramas, attests, there is really no off-season in TV land anymore. But Emmy-winning producer Howard Gordon is taking that idea to the extreme, with a workload that includes producing currently airing 24: Live Another Day and FX's new drama Tyrant, TNT's new August spy drama Legends, and a fourth season of Homeland, scheduled to premiere on Showtime in October.

Gordon took time from his crazy schedule — 24: LAD recently wrapped filming in London, while Tyrant is still filming in Israel — to talk to Yahoo TV about his deep bench of programming, the arc and controversies of the first season of Tyrant, whether or not Jack Bauer will live another day in primetime, and what's in store for Carrie Mathison, post-Brody, on Homeland.

How are you, besides incredibly busy in this Howard Gordon-filled TV world we're living in?
[Laughs.] Yes, just a little [busy]. I keep telling my friends I feel like Icarus. I know what he was going through. We'll see. It's exhilarating in its own perverse way, I have to say.

Like 24: Live Another Day and Homeland, Tyrant is particularly timely. What draws you to this subject matter that runs through all your series?
It just happens to be where, as a civilian, my interests lie. Like everybody else, 9/11 had a profound impact on me. I was coincidentally on a show [24] that retroactively contoured itself around that event and all the implications of it. I think that's where I dipped my toe into that and found myself wading neck-deep into it. New, impossible, but entirely predictable events seem to be happening in [the Middle East]. Its unwieldiness, I think, is what's attractive to me dramatically, because of its complexity. It's about order, creating order out of the chaos of the real world. In a way, that's, I think, what this is about for me, trying to wrestle with some of these impossible questions, and finding characters who themselves are interesting and compelling enough, but the stakes of their actions have much broader implications.

Jack Bauer and the presidents Jack interacted with in that time were ways to sort of put faces on some of the impossible choices that their real-world analogs were wrestling with. Carrie Mathison, certainly, and Brody… Barry and Jamal and Leila and Molly [from Tyrant] are also characters who are ways to put faces on what I think are emotionally real challenges for those real-world analogs. There's sort of an obstinate kind of hope in all of them, too, but there's also an inevitable tragedy. I would say that's sort of the common theme, one of the common themes, in all these lead characters.

The cast of 'Tyrant': Nasser Faris as Khaled, Alice Krige as Amira, Ashraf Barhom as Jamal, Moran Atias as Leila, Adam Rayner as Barry, Anne Winters as Emma, Jennifer Finnegan as Molly, Noah Silver as Sammy

There's always a lot of concern about stereotypical portrayals with this subject matter. How much do you address that when you're developing a show? Or do you have to, at a certain point, put that aside and let the audiences watch the story unfold?

Well, at some level, when people make accusations, if people feel it, it's real, and it's concerning to me. I don't want to be someone who kindles … if someone says, "This portrayal of this character makes me feel uncomfortable," I take it very seriously. I do try to hear it and try to measure it, but it goes only so far. People's sensitivity sometimes absolutely eclipses any possibility of drama. At what point do you find yourself homogenizing the drama to the point that it's no longer dramatic and ultimately uninteresting? So I take it seriously, but I also take it with a grain of salt. I find it encouraging when people on both sides of the political spectrum are offended and pleased. I think that's the sign that I've done my job.

One of the most satisfying aspects of Tyrant is the backstories, which you're doling out in small doses throughout the season. Why did you choose to unfold them that way, versus sharing the whole backstory in the pilot?
Because it's such a complicated story. It's the history of a nation, first and foremost, and then the history of a family inside that nation, and then the history of two brothers and a father inside that family history. It really is this sprawling tale. And it's a fictional country, so you have to dole it out when it's actually relevant to the present drama. That's really what informed our decision to sparingly dole out that story: when it's appropriate and when it impacts the present time.

By the end of the first season, will we know the full story of Barry and the exact circumstances under which he left his country and started a new life in the United States?
Yes, you'll know the history of Abbudin, the history of Barry's father and what happened, and how that is refracted through the lens of their family and the betrayals and the loyalties inside the family. That absolutely will have a real-world impact, a present-time impact on Barry and his brother, and Barry's relationship to his family and to his country.

[Related: How Do TV Characters Mini-Mes Stack Up?]

What, if you had to pick one, is the main story of this series, of this season?
If you put a gun to my head and told me, what is this first season about, I think it's really about these two brothers coming together in the wake of their father's death. If this were the Bible, I'd say it's the story of Cain and Abel, or Esau and Jacob. Or "Rich Man, Poor Man." Or the Bulger brothers. It's a story about brothers, this first season in particular, is really what is it. It's not just about Barry, it's really about Barry and Jamal. And I think secondarily, it's really about the women in their lives, one of whom, Leila, they each have their respective histories with.

Have you wrapped filming on Season 1?
No, we're still filming. I'm going actually on Thursday for the last two. We're still writing the last two, and very much in [the production of] it.

What has that experience been like for you, not just the travel back and forth, working on all these shows at once, but filming in Israel?
Could we do anything harder, is all I can say. The same issues that we're talking about in terms of aesthetic choices for the series have challenged us just as much as production issues, which is to say, we have actors who speak English as a second or third language even, which is a tremendous challenge. Crews that speak English at various levels, a culture that is not used to doing production at this level. There's been a very, very steep learning curve. I don't know where I'd begin to tell you how challenging it's been, but it's also been exciting. The benefit of making the hard choice, I think, is evident on camera, because you cannot get the look that we've gotten or the faces that we're getting in Burbank.

Kiefer Sutherland and Howard Gordon (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Switching to 24: LAD, Jack Bauer fans have embraced his return. Were you at all concerned they wouldn't?

Oh, completely, absolutely. The biggest fear was, is this going to be a nostalgia tour of a rock band that should have hung up their guitars a long time ago? I think it's interesting, because I go to the critics, and some of the more generous critics made that the story, and I really, really think — I'm sensing, anyway — that people are really happy with the way this year turned out, and I think despite themselves, even among the naysayers, [they] are pretty surprised with how compelling this year's story is turning out. It's good; it's really gratifying. It's been challenging too, and [filming in] London was certainly a challenge as well. I think putting the band back together again turned out to be a really good thing, though.

[Related: '24: Live Another Day' Showrunners on Time Jumps and the Best Jack Bauer Quotes]

We're just a couple of weeks away from the season finale, does it feel like there's a future for the 24 universe?
I think right now everyone is sufficiently exhausted from getting through this year at this level, that no one is willing right now to even ask the question. I think in a couple of weeks, when the dust settles, I really hope somebody takes it seriously, because I think it's a special format. And I hate to use the word "format," but I think a real-time thriller is something that is a very robust format. I think, whether or not it will be all about Jack Bauer… that's the challenge — can you take a character and keep him fresh and engaged, and can this be a franchise that lives past Jack Bauer? That is a question I'm not sure anyone is willing to ask, let alone answer. But there may be something in between, as well. So I don't know, but I think all options are on the table certainly, and I know that a lot of people behind the scenes are willing to consider it.

Claire Danes and Howard Gordon (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Showtime)

On to Homeland: What can you tease about Season 4? Will we see Carrie out in the field on some Jack Bauer-type adventure?

I'm hesitant to say they are Jack Bauer-type adventures, but it is still a thriller. [Showrunner] Alex Gansa just got back from Cape Town, where they were shooting the first two episodes [of the season]. It's really exciting, and, like 24, this is really an A-team of behind-the-scenes writers and producers. They work at such a high level, and the scripts are so smart and so compelling. There's going to be new ground broken, but it will remain entirely consistent with the story of Carrie Mathison and Saul Berenson and Quinn, and some really fun, new characters. Suraj Sharma, from Life of Pi, is remarkable.

[Related: 'Homeland' Reboot Set for Season 4: Carrie Heads for Foreign Soil]

And will we see Carrie as a mother in Season 4?
The trick is, here's a character whose life is complicated by her illness, which is not something that has gone away, and in fact, it's what informs her maternity, for sure, this year.

You also have Legends coming up soon on TNT, based on the Robert Littell book, with Sean Bean as a spy who's a little too good at going undercover.
Yeah, exactly. He's a deep-cover operative, the best deep-cover operative that's ever been, pretty much. Not unlike certain actors who become so immersed in their parts that they start conflating and confusing who they are… sometimes the role seems realer than their baseline identity. In this case, Martin Odum begins to question, through a series of events, whether he is in fact really Martin Odum… he may not be who he is, who he thinks he is. It happens against this very extensive backdrop, a wonderful procedural engine, where this deep-cover organization, a branch of the FBI, infiltrates criminal and terrorist operations. We have a wonderful cast, with Sean Bean, who is remarkable, compelling, deep, and complicated, and Ali Larter, Morris Chestnut, Tina Majorino, and Steve Harris, and run by David Wilcox, who's doing a great job. My job has really been trying to find and work with great people. Obviously, I can't be in four places at once. Martin Odum might be able to, but I can't.

Tyrant airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX; 24: Live Another Day airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox; Legends premieres Aug. 13 at 9 p.m. on TNT; and Homeland Season 4 premieres in October on Showtime.