Bozell: Is '24' Going A Little Over the Top For Prime Time TV?

March 3rd, 2007 12:36 PM

In his culture column this week, Brent Bozell talks about the rare hawkish corner of entertainment, and finds it a bit troubling that while "24" sends a gung-ho message in the War on Terror, it's starting to look a bit like an FX show. (Remember that episode of "The Shield" with the face-melting-on-the-burner scene?) He starts by noting his mother was always a big John Wayne fan, that standard-bearer of red-blooded patriotism, and salutes that neglected genre of entertainment. But:

The sixth season of “24" premiered on January 14, but this time even otherwise supportive critics are worried that Fox has gone over the top, with plot twists so extreme and brutal that one concludes the network is irresponsibly falling back on the old formula: shock for the sake of shock.

In the season premiere – which began in the family hour at 8 PM Eastern, not its usual 9 PM start – a terrorist spreads his tools out on a table and selects a specific knife to stab into Jack Bauer’s shoulder. The hero tries to stay calm, but screams in agony when the terrorist pours alcohol over the stab wound. Moments later, Bauer is able to escape when he pulls out the heart monitor with his teeth. He takes out his captor by biting his neck so viciously that he rips a chunk of the neck off. Bauer then spits out the flesh and frees himself. Some of the show’s fans might have been thrilled – but did it need to be so vividly gruesome, especially when youngsters are in the audience?

In the February 12 episode, there was another over the top scene, this time with a drill. When a terrorist learns that the Americans are hot on his trail and that his time is running out, he holds a hostage held against a wall, then plunges a power drill into his back. The whirling drill bit is shown digging into the man’s skin and then the camera hones in on the screaming face of the victim, who then falls to the floor in a pool of blood.

These kinds of intensely graphic scenes are growing more common. The Parents Television Council found that Fox’s “24" showed 67 scenes of torture in the first five seasons. To put that in its proper perspective, there were 110 torture scenes in all of prime time television between 1995 and 2001. From 2002 to 2005, the number soared to 624 torture scenes.

The controversy over the show’s graphic scenes pits the hardcore action fans against the child protectors. There is a happy medium. Take the really grisly stuff out, and put it in the theaters. If it’s a quality show – like “24” – it is unnecessary, as witnessed by its spectacular success before this year. Who knows? Maybe my mother will fall in love with Kiefer Sutherland, too.