Complex TV

p. 62: 24

24 is another example of an unconventional series needing to teach viewers how to watch in its opening moments. After the pilot begins with a digital-LED image of the title 24, a voice-over reads the on-screen text, “The following takes place between midnight and 1:00 a.m., on the day of the California presidential primary. Events occur in real time.” Not only does this explanation highlight the importance of temporality as a storytelling element, but the simultaneous text and voice-over makes it clear that the series will be explicit in its narrative strategies, not allowing for ambiguity or confusion. The scene cuts to an image of a cityscape, with a caption reading, “Kuala Lumpur, Local Time 4:00:27,” with the seconds ticking forward to continue the focus on temporality and explicit narration; the shot then compresses into a split-screen window juxtaposing the city with a crowded street scene along with the credits of the actors to introduce the program’s dominant stylistic norm of split screen. The sequence continues in split screen, cutting into dual medium shots of the same character, who turns his head simultaneously in the dual images; this unusual effect teaches viewers that 24 will use split screen to present multiple perspectives on the same action, both creating redundancy and maximizing viewer knowledge. In the sequence leading up to Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) agent Rovner transmitting intelligence about a planned assassination attempt, the nearly constant split screen provides no essential new story information or perspectives but rather serves as a stylistic tutorial of how the series will visualize stories. This opening scene then spans across the globe to Los Angeles, with a caption indicating the local time as just past midnight, teaching viewers that temporality will be constantly in “real time,” while cuts between scenes will only be spatial, avoiding typical ellipses of time in lieu of space. Although not much “happens” in this opening scene in terms of character or plot, it serves an essential function to orient viewers to the program’s unique narrative style and its repertoire of graphic devices.

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