Perhaps the biggest news out of TV upfront week so far is Fox's decision to give Jack Bauer the zombie treatment with a 12-episode, time-skipping "limited series" return next summer. But a lot has changed since 24 went off the air in 2010, and we don't just mean on the national-security front. Still, there is hard evidence that 24: Live Another Day won't fizzle just because primetime viewing habits have changed; indeed, the new couch potato may love to live-stream a whole season at once, but nobody's going to wait that long to get back into CTU.
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Of course, 24 was the first in a wave itself: Its time constraints introduced a wave of serial television that gave way to Lost and, well, a bunch of big-budget, low-rated copycats. It was appointment television until it was not: Soon enough, 24 was one of the first bing-watching favorites of the TV-shows-on-DVD boom, before digital video recorders and Netflix and Hulu became the easiest, most affordable way (besides, you know, pirating) to catch up on a season of a show all at once. How could you not watch another hour?
The formula for addictive TV shows, though, keeps evolving. Netflix is no longer just a threat to skipping real-time primetime in favor of watching a whole season after the fact; its original programming has proven the entire-season-at-once drop to be effective — and profitable — with House of Cards and, soon, with Arrested Development, which Fox canned in 2006. Except that's disruption TV, and part of the networks' old plan still works, with a tweak: Fox will air 12 episodes of the new 24 over 12 weeks in what Fox entertainment boss Kevin Reilly called on a Monday conference call a "franchise" of these so-called limited "event" series that are bringing out "a who's who of Hollywood in the door to participate." (Matt Dillon will star in 10 episodes of Wayward Pines from M. Night Shyamalan on Fox next year, and Reilly said 24's "franchise-ability" could spell a second return for Bauer and Co. within two years.)
So can weekly event television, on network television, still draw the eyeballs that advertisers want — and that networks, during upfronts, are trying to convince advertisers still exist? Looking at the numbers, the answer is definitely yes, and all signs point to 24 — in many ways the inventor of the hyper-addictive thriller plot — exceeding the expectations that are more realistic than you might thing. A recent Nielsen report said 87 percent of people still watch television live, while 5.5 percent catch up within the first 24 hours after a show airs and 6 percent watch by the end of the week. But we also know that serialized genre shows like Fringe and Revolution have added millions of viewers when their Live+7 numbers finally come in — those stats add up the live broadcast numbers with viewers who watched on DVR within a week. It's the more accurate representation of how many people watch a show, and, hey, people still buy a lot of DVDs, too, you know. And a serialized show like 24 can still inspire viewers who haven't cut the cord yet. Plus, it sounds like Jack might finally get some sleep with those skip-aheads, which is nice.
Stay tuned to The Atlantic Wire's upfront central for the latest, including Fox's presentation live Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. Eastern.