Have you noticed that CTU has been filmed on different sets over the years?
Jack Bauer’s current bad day got off to an explosive start this season on "24" with a nuclear device detonating in a Los Angeles suburb. Since then, it’s been business as usual for the secret agent played by Kiefer Sutherland: breaking into a foreign embassy, making a deal with a former corrupt American president and communicating with CTU headquarters by cell phone.
Ah, CTU, the Air Traffic Control of the "24" universe, filled with moles, political in-fighting and more barking than you’d hear at the dog pound.
"Check your SIP adapter!" Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub) snapped at a co-worker earlier this season. "You’ve specified the wrong slot assignment."
On the Chatsworth, Calif., "24" set that is home to the show’s technobabble hubbub, director/executive producer Jon Cassar noted that the current CTU is actually the third iteration of the set.
"When they did the pilot, they couldn’t afford to build a CTU, so they went to Fox Sports," Cassar said during a January set visit. "It was a very new building and had an upstairs office. Then they re-created it for the (series)."
That second steel and glass CTU set was used in the show’s first two seasons. The series moved to a new soundstage for season three – a decidedly low-tech, warehouse-like building that was once a pencil factory – where the current, solid-looking CTU set was built.
The current set’s design is strategic. Designers and directors learned what worked and what didn’t from the earlier sets and built the current CTU to fit their needs.
"We always love to be looking through things," Cassar said, noting that bars in a divider that surrounds one desk area are the perfect width to film someone’s face between. And Chloe’s desk is purposely situated at the center of CTU.
It’s not just the set that’s changed since the pilot episode. The emphasis on time has evolved. While still a "real-time thriller," viewers now only see the time when going to and coming from commercial breaks. In the pilot, clocks were everywhere on set, Cassar said.
As for when the series is taking place, that’s up for debate, even among the show’s crew. Some say it takes place in the present, but if you do the math from the first episode – with all the elapsed months between seasons and presidential elections that have come and gone – "24" should really be set several years in the future.
For the purists, the CTU phones show the date in true "24" time. The year is 2012. "The only reason we’ve got that is for all the people on the Internet," Cassar said.