Number's up for "24" co-creator

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - “24” co-creator Joel Surnow, the highest-profile mastermind behind the Emmy-winning drama, abruptly left the show Wednesday.

Writers and producers Howard Gordon (L) and Joel Surnow speak at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation, on the similarities between the war on terrorism and the television show "24," in Washington June 23, 2006. REUTERS/Micah Walter

His contract with the show’s production company, 20th Century Fox TV, was set to expire April 30, but the studio agreed to his request for an early release so that he could focus on new projects.

“I did some soul-searching,” Surnow said. “I took it as an opportunity to write on my own and do other things.”

He said he was not sure what exactly he would do next, but “24” would be a tough act to follow.

“After doing ‘24,’ I don’t know if I want to do a mainstream show again,” he said. “I like what’s going on in cable; there is an opportunity to stretch dramatically there, which is something I’m trying to do.”

Fox on Tuesday praised Surnow and left the door open for him to be involved with the show in the future. “Joel created one of the landmark series of this decade in ‘24’, and his contribution to its creative excellence over the years has been immeasurable,” Fox said. “His input will always be welcome.”

Surnow created the real-time thriller with Robert Cochran, who continues to work on the series. In the past few years, the show has been run by executive producer Howard Gordon. Each season revolves around 24 hours in the life of a government agent (Kiefer Sutherland) who battles villains on all fronts.

The openly conservative Surnow, who jokingly labeled himself a “right-wing nut,” made headlines in November when he asked, “Are we nuts thinking Hillary Clinton could be president of this country? Honest to God, just stand back and think about it.”

Ironically, the upcoming seventh season of “24,” slated to debut in January 2009, features the first female U.S. president, played by Cherry Jones.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter