'24' clock could keep ticking

kiefer-sutherland-24-s8-320.jpgThe season of "24" that starts Sunday is the last one FOX has under contract. So does that mean time is about to start running out on Jack Bauer?

Not necessarily, series star and executive producer Kiefer Sutherland said Monday (Jan. 11) at the TV Critics Association press tour.

"I've always said that as long as people wanted us to make it and people were really interested in watching it, I'd be interested," Sutherland says. "There are a lot of components involved. Right now my focus is on finishing season 8."

Questions about the future of "24" started swirling last summer, when FOX Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly noted that the coming season was the last one under the current contract and that the network would look at its performance before making a decision on a ninth season.

But as Sutherland noted Monday, "It's a contract year if they choose to pick it up -- meaning, our contracts are in place if they chose to pick it up, [and] our salaries are set. ... But if they chose not to pick up the show, they're not obligated to pay us. So season 8, as far as I'm concerned, it was a choice to make it not because they had to but because they wanted to. We approached that at the end of season 7, and we'll approach that at the end of season 8.

Showrunner Howard Gordon says "it's always been a creative proposition" as to whether the series continues, and creative decisions will also drive how and when "24" ends.

"I think [the end will come] after a very concerted effort is made to come up with an idea, and then come up empty-handed," Gordon says. "There's just a kind of stubbornness to me and the writing staff -- even if we're not invited to ask what the next story would be, I think we'll probably try to figure one out."

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Photo credit: FOX