Jack Bauer will return for another Day of "24" starting next January on FOX. That means that once again, Jack has cheated death. Even if we establish, though, that Jack Bauer is essentially a television immortal, time may still be running out for Kiefer Sutherland's gun-toting alter-ego.

FOX renewed "24" for two seasons back in 2007, a deal that simultaneously extended the show for the duration of Sutherland's contract with 20th Century Fox TV. At the time, "24" was coming off a critically maligned sixth season and an additional two seasons seemed like a realistic and finite duration. 

After losing a year due to the strike, "24" returned this spring and while ratings weren't anywhere near what they were at the show's peak, it still continued to anchor FOX's strong Monday night and picked up six Emmy nominations (11 if you include the telefilm "24: Redemption"). As a result, Sutherland is far from committed to walking away next May.

"I don't know with regards to 'The Last Season' or anything," Sutherland told reporters backstage after the "24" Comic-Con panel on Friday (July 24). "I really don't. It is the last season that I've been contracted to do '24,' but I really don't know. We're so focused on making Season Eight. But obviously the requirements would be that the writers felt that they could really bang it out. If Howard [Gordon] came to me and say, 'The way I saw those last scenes play, I have an idea for Season Nine that would be unbelievable,' I would have to listen to him for that. I think we're all very away of wanting to protect what we believe is a very strong and important legacy that is '24.' All of those things. Again, the choices to do or not to do it have nothing to do with my contract, have everything to do with whether or not an audience still wants to watch it and cares and whether or not we feel we have something to offer."

In the immediate present, Sutherland and the "24" team are in production on Day Eight of "24," the show's first season in New York City (following its first day in Washington, D.C. this year). How will they top what was possibly the most tortured day of Jack Bauer's life? Or at least build on it? Well, at the Comic-Con panel, Sutherland and showrunner Howard Gordon echoed that this season's theme will be "peace" both in the main plot, which involves an assassination attempt that would jeopardize a historic summit between a Middle Eastern President (Anil Kapoor) and President Taylor (Cherry Jones), and for Bauer.

"My sense, and I think today kind of confirms it, I think fans kinda root for Jack and I think I kinda root for him as well and I think people would like to see him at least have the option to have a good life," Sutherland said. "We've stripped a lot of those components away over the years, by virtue of killing everybody, that whether he wants to live or die seemed to become kind of innocuous, like 'Who cares?' There was nothing really to live for. So what we did for this season is to really try to create something that would make Jack want to live. We started off with just this relationship between he and his daughter and his granddaughter and her husband and that family, because his family was literally torn apart after Season One."

Sutherland added, "For me as an actor and Jack as a character, the desire for Season Eight is to protect all of the things that would make living worthwhile and also live within the context of what he morally accept himself doing or not doing."

How will Sutherland react to the end of his run as Jack Bauer, whether it comes after next season or several years down the road?

"I think it's gonna be very complicated," he said." Whether this is our last season or next season's our last season, we certainly know we're on the shorter end of the stick than the longer one."

He continued, "In Season One and Season Two, it's such a shock to your body, the workload, that you can't wait for it to be done. And somewhere and somehow in the groove of everything, you start to get into a rhythm of it and you find ways to make it easier for yourself... I know for a fact that it's not gonna be 'Wahoo!' It's gonna be a combination of a lot of things and it's not gonna be easy."


FOX has already set a Sunday, Jan. 17 premiere for Day Eight of "24."


A long-time member of the TCA Board and a longer-time blogger of "American Idol," Dan Fienberg writes about TV, except for when he writes about movies or sometimes writes about the Red Sox. But never music. He would sound stupid talking about music.