I can’t help but feel that ‘24’ would have been more dramatically and commercially successful if Jack Bauer had been a copyeditor…

Caption/VO: The following events take place between 12am, which isn’t a real time, and either 1am or 1pm depending on whether 12am was supposed to mean midnight or noon.

[Counter-Typo Unit, Los Angeles. Jack Bauer stands next to Chloe O’Brian’s desk]

Jack: You’ve gotta get me back on the case. Chase is a good freelancer, but he doesn’t know the writer like I do, he doesn’t know what to look for.

Chloe: Jack, you know you’ve been relieved of operational duties since you ignored the new tone of voice guidelines.

Jack: Look, if you play it by the book you’ll be sitting here collating comments until it’s too late. We’re only gonna get this done if we do it under the radar. Stall Bill with queries about the image credits while I unstack these modifiers.

Chloe: Well OK, but I’m not comfortable with this.

[Chloe’s computer beeps]

Jack: What have you got?

Chloe: It’s… I don’t understand it. It’s a new draft.

Jack: Let me see.

Chloe: This doesn’t make sense. We’ve already been working the first one up since they sent it through. That puts us six hours behind!

Jack: What the hell kind of mess is this? We need to take out that dangling participle right now, or it’s going to undermine the entire paragraph!

Chloe: But Jack, the President’s covering email says it should just be checked for typos!

Jack: Dammit, Chloe, we can’t trust the President. You see what he says – “it should just be checked” – in the passive voice! We edit by those standards and this whole operation will be for nothing.


[Underground car park. Jack and Tony Almeida eyeball each other warily.]

Tony: The war on terrorism was a mistake, Jack.

Jack: How can you say that?

Tony: We were wrong! Whatever way you cut it, it’s a category mistake that should never have made it past our first review. You can’t go to war against an abstract noun, it doesn’t make any sense.

Jack: Tony, what’s happened to you? I know you’ve had it tough, but surely you still know that the war’s against not an abstract noun but the concrete activity it denotes? And that ‘war’ here is metaphorical, suggesting a sustained effort only partly consisting of military actions but no less resolutely pursued?

Tony: Is that the way you’re doing things round here now, Jack? Metaphors? Have you any idea what kind of misconceptions this could lead to?

Jack: Dammit, Tony, I don’t have time for this! Have you got the details of those references for the footnotes or not?

Tony: Hell, sure. Take ’em. I don’t care any more. But Jack?

Jack: What?

Tony: They’re in Vancouver format.

Jack: You son of a bitch.


[Jack’s desk. Chloe approaches.]

Chloe: Jack, here’s the immunity certificate back from the White House.

Jack: My god, look at this. Two – no, three – conflicting sets of comments on the same proof!

Chloe: They must have passed it around. The red pen is the Attorney-General, the green is the Vice-President’s suspicious-looking assistant and I’m not sure who the blue pen is. They haven’t signed.

Jack: But it’s printed in blue! You mean to tell me we’ve got a blue-on-blue incident here? How the hell do they expect me to unsnarl this?

Chloe: I’ll help talk you through it. Let’s start by making the cuts.

Jack: OK, you’re right. Top of page one. Do I cut the red or the green first?

Chloe: Cut… the red. No! The green!

Jack: They’re too close together! I can’t risk it.

Chloe: This is no good anyway: these proofing symbols don’t follow any conventions I recognise. We need to know authorial intent.

Jack: Tell Johnson to prep interrogation room 1. I’ll make them talk.


[Bill Buchanan’s office. Bill sits behind his desk; Jack stands]

Bill: Jack, I’ve got to have that proof now.

Jack: Bill, you don’t understand. The changes that have been made aren’t the ones I marked up.

Bill: I know, I asked Morris to take a look. They’ll be his edits.

Jack: That doesn’t make sense – why would you get us both to edit it separately?

Bill: I’m sorry, Jack, but I didn’t know I could trust you. For what it’s worth, I do now.

Jack: Well OK. Even so, Morris is sharp: he wouldn’t have left all these run-on sentences like this. Bill, I think CTU’s been compromised!

Bill: Don’t be paranoid, Jack. Just give me the final proof.

Jack: No, listen, Bill –

Bill: I want the proof!

Jack:You can’t handle the proof!


Bill: Isn’t that Jack Nicholson from ‘A Few Good Men’?

Jack: Yes, yes it is. Sorry, Bill. I just couldn’t resist.

Bill: Look, you’ve got to stay focused. We can’t risk losing internal consistency. If you start parodying other self-important conspiracy dramas, what the hell does that do to our house style?

Jack: I’m sorry. I haven’t slept much lately.

[Chloe enters]

Chloe: Jack?

Jack: Yeah?

Chloe: It’s your daughter, Kim – she’s been kidnapped by extremists again. They’ve sent through a demand, but…

Jack: What is it?

Chloe: It says, “You must stop targeting our operatives with your surveillance equipment.”

Bill: How can we – the grammar – I think we’re looking at a multiple interpretation here!

Jack: Do they mean stop using our surveillance equipment to target their operatives or stop targeting those of their operatives who’ve stolen our surveillance equipment?

Chloe: That’s all I’ve got. There’s no intel on what on Earth they thought they were trying to write.

Jack: Goddammit, this is a FOX show! There’s no room for ambiguity here!

[Closing credits]

Update: See episode 2, in which Jack is sent to kill Osama bin Laden. (Or is it Usama?)

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  • ayasawada  On April 7, 2011 at 7:40 am

    This is the best thing I’ve read in ages. Particularly “You can’t handle the proof!”

  • Cathy  On April 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Love it! Unfortunately I’ve never seen 24, so I will now imagine it like this forever.

  • stroppyeditor  On April 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks! I’ve actually had the “you can’t handle the proof” line sitting quietly in the back of my head for a few years, waiting for someone to unwittingly give me the feed line. But the people I work with are too polite!

    Cathy, 24 is exactly like this, only with guns instead of red pens. Bo-ring!

  • Steph  On April 8, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Great stuff.


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