The Fox network debuted 24 in November 2001, and network television is still feeling the effects. A real-time drama that depicted a full day in one season, the show was an idea that went from novelty to captivating drama. For actor Dennis Haysbert, the concept was only part of what hooked him, as his initial suspicions were parted by the quality of the show’s writing.
While promoting his role in 20th Century Studio’s No Exit (opens in new tab), I had the honor of speaking with the 24 vet on behalf of CinemaBlend. As the character of David Palmer, a politician who would go from Senator to President to elder statesman, Dennis Haysbert played a figure of immense authority. I asked him what his first reactions to the show were, as well as whether or not he thought it would become such a pop culture touchstone; to which Haysbert responded:
It didn’t take long for 24 to prove itself as a show that had arrived at the right place and the right time. Despite premiering mere months after the events of 9/11, which actually called for the first episode’s explosion of an airliner to be trimmed down, the counterterrorism drama landed with a decisive hit. An undeniable part of that victory was Dennis Haysbert’s depiction of an idealistic senator running to become a candidate for the presidency.
As David Palmer would wade through scandal, assassination attempts, and political conspiracies, viewers saw the beloved bring to life a leader who wasn’t just a simple right or wrong figurehead. Nowhere was that more present than in Season 3’s re-election storyline, which saw a morally compromised President Palmer giving up his campaign to retain office. It’s very little wonder that when it was time for Lucifer to introduce God, Dennis Haysbert was the man ultimately chosen for the job.
The real-life implications of his character are even wilder if you go by the actor’s own viewpoint. In a 2008 interview, The star felt that thanks to his three-dimensional Black president featuring so prominently on 24, America was finally ready to elect someone like Senator Barack Obama into the actual presidency.
To a certain extent, life imitated art, and the writing that convinced Dennis Haysbert of 24's genius may have convinced America to believe in change. It’s hard not to agree when reading an anecdote that Dennis Haysbert shared in that vintage interview, as the role of President Palmer had people actually wanting him to run for office himself. Recalling an interaction he encountered in a “very wealthy, very white and very Republican” California town, this is probably the best proof of the show's ultimate cultural imprint:
Unfortunately, President Palmer would be assassinated in the opening of 24's fifth season. Though his death was untimely, the character’s influence lived on through his policy, as well as his brother Wayne’s eventual presidency, and his friendship with Kiefer Sutherland’s long-missed Jack Bauer. In the real world, that legacy could be considered even greater, all because Dennis Haysbert’s confidence in a radical network drama helped sell a reality that the United States was ultimately ready for. If that’s not worthy of finally creating a line of Funko Pop figures based on 24 characters, which surprisingly hasn’t happened yet, then who truly knows what is?
Should the continually hinted prospect of a 24 reboot ever happen, those in charge would do well to remember just what made the series work so well in the first place. Part of that winning strategy is having a hero like Jack Bauer that the audience can follow, even into the darkest places. However, let’s not forget that the leadership of people like President David Palmer is just as important, as it further anchors the idealism that’s presented amidst the suspense thriller’s various disasters.
Whether you want to catch Dennis Haysbert’s mysterious role in 20th Century Studio’s No Exit or relive his days of political glory on 24, you can find both options in the same place. Both are available for streaming with a Hulu subscription. For a look at current series that are headed our way in the year to come, check out the list of new shows that make up the TV landscape.