You'd think after helping shape just about every season (or "day") of Jack Bauer's life on FOX's "24" that executive producer Howard Gordon would be ready for a nice, long break. Instead he's currently juggling several projects in not only the television world but also in the world of books. Besides his debut novel "Gideon's War" hitting stores last month, Gordon is awaiting the fate of two pilots - "Homeland," which he wrote with Alex Gansa & Gideon Raff, starring Emmy-winner Claire Danes as a CIA officer with her own demons to fight; and NBC's "REM," from writer Kyle Killen and starring Jason Isaacs, where Gordon is serving as executive producer/showrunner, about a man caught between two different versions of his reality.
Our Jim Halterman rang up Gordon recently to discuss the myriad of projects he's involved in as well as how a busy television writer/producer decided to venture into the world of novel writing with "Gideon's War."
Jim Halterman: You must be cloned with everything you're doing these days!
Howard Gordon: I'm certainly pushing myself to the edge. I don't know what's wrong with me. I thought I learned my lesson when I was young but I think I bit off a little more than I could chew. I'm a little ambitious... or greedy. I don't know which! So far the roof has not fallen in.
JH: So a few years back the WGA strike is going on and instead of working on a new pilot or a movie, you write a book. Is that just where your heart went?
HG: I should say I started a book but it was the perfect thing and a perfect antidote for the entertainment business. I really needed to do something outside of the business but I also had been nursing this ambition for some time. I started college thinking I was going to join the State Department and then I thought I was going to be a novelist. I had always wanted to try it but never had time because of TV work so this seemed like an indefinite period of time and I started something that I had been noodling with a little bit before. I got 100 pages done and sold the book based on those 100 pages and so once I had the contract it forced me to finish. Had I not attempted to sell it and had a deadline and had someone pushing me I probably would've found any number of reasons not to finish it.
JH: "Gideon's War" has brothers, the pilot "REM" is about family, Jack Bauer had his family pop up on "24" and you even wrote on "Sisters" a long time ago. I'm sensing a pattern of family here.
HG: In the case of "Gideon's War" the brothers theme is something I've been fascinated by since I'm the oldest of three brothers. From an inside way, I've been very aware of the power of that relationship. It stems from love to competition so those stories are like Cain and Abel, "The Godfather" and I loved "The Fighter." It's such a deep and complicated dynamic among brothers. Even more than any other familial relationship that is one that has fascinated me but now that I'm married and I have a kid I'm absolutely drawn to it and I was with Jack Bauer, as well. He's a father and he tries to do his best in his job and it's exacted a toll on his family and that was a premise that I really gravitated towards in the beginning of "24."
JH: As you were writing "Gideon's War" was there also a big screen or TV version lurking in the back of your mind?
HG: It was probably more my agent than me! I was more than happy to write a book that would hold a reader's attention. That was really my goal. It wasn't to write a book for a screenplay but it was informed by my time at the movies and my time writing "24." I think it is a rookie effort and I'm very proud of it but I think I also learned things that I think in my next book I might be able to avoid and explore like deeper character and more dynamics between those characters. Because of that compressed time frame and the compressed action of the book, it has a pulpy feel to it. Within a short span of time there's only so much that can happen with characters over that compressed period of time. The next one is going to have a wider time frame and a larger cast of characters.
JH: Did you learn anything from writing a novel that maybe you hadn't experienced from writing television or film scripts?
HG: For one thing, I learned that the act itself is a far more intimate experience. You really have you, the page and then your reader. How you tell a story to the reader is a much more active character in the process than, say, the viewer of a TV show where you're really working with literally hundreds of people - writers, directors, composers and you're really doing a lot of work for the audience member even to the point where the music will guide them to what they're supposed to feel. In [writing the book] you're aware of your reader as you write those words and it's a much more direct experience.
JH: Let's talk about "REM." What was it about Kyle Killen's script that drew you in?
HG: It's really intriguing and I hope we can figure it out but it's just one of those things that I just couldn't resist and that's one of the problems - it's such an interesting concept that I couldn't resist that chance.
JH: Do you think it's selling it short labeling it "Inception"-like as it has been in the press already?
HG: "Inception" is a short hand but I don't think it's an accurate way to describe it. But 'REM' is hard to describe and you find yourself telling people the whole story that it's about a cop and he thinks in one life his wife is alive and his son is dead and in his dream state - or is it his dream state? - the inverse.
JH: While supernatural may not be the right word it does feel like you're back in your former worlds of "The X-Files" and "Buffy."
HG: The trick here is to make it a show and not an episode. I think this premise could have been a premise in either of those shows and so the question is how to take this premise, nurse it and make it sufficiently compelling without being confusing and actually work and progress in an increasingly satisfying way.
JH: Switching gears to "Homeland," as I read the script it was so easy to see Claire Danes in the lead role of Carrie Anderson.
HG: When we sat down to write it, "Temple Grandin" (the HBO TV-movie that won Danes an Emmy and many other awards) was on that week and we started calling the character Claire when we were breaking the story. We were really picturing her in this part so the fact that we actually got her turned out to be really fantastic and, aside from being a pleasure to work with, she really investigated the role. We're cutting it right now and I think we'll know from Showtime probably in early March at the latest whether we're going forward.
JH: How was it different for you to write a female lead after writing Jack Bauer all those years?
HG: That's a good point and I think it's one of the big distinguishers and it's one of the things that we're sensitive about is not doing "24." "24" is this adrenalized, compressed thing, pedal-to-the-metal suspense thriller and this is a willfully slower story with a very different character at the center of it. Jack had a family and that was something that always pulled at him and this is a woman who is very much alone in the world in the context of being a woman of a certain age who hasn't made those connections. She's a very different character and we approached her differently. She's bi-polar, which presents its own set of problems in terms of her work but it's also this double-edged sword. It's a very different construction. And then, of course, the family drama of Brody's return - and we have Damian Lewis from "Band of Brothers" and "Life" - the guy is unbelievable. He's really, really one of the best actors I've ever worked with.
JH: The TV business has changed so much with so many channels and options for watching television. Is it a good thing or just more complicated?
HG: I think it's so complicated and I'm learning. In some ways, I was in suspended animation during "24." I was out in Chatsworth for nine years doing the same show and I'm only now re-entering the business. The one thing I guess is for all that's changed things are also the same in that we have shows like "Modern Family" and "Glee," which are these highly lucrative franchises. TV is still a place where advertisers can reach the most people at the same time so for all that's changed it feels that the front of the business model is the same. Things are more complex. I'm surprised by how robust the business still is. There are more opportunities for writers, more pilots, more outlets. It's amazing how many there are.
Howard Gordon's debut novel "Gideon's War" is in stores now while the fate of "Homeland" and "REM" will be decided in the coming months.