In the season premiere -- which began in the family hour at 8 p.m. Eastern, not its usual 9 p.m. start -- a terrorist spreads his tools out on a table and selects a specific knife to stab into Jack Bauer's shoulder. The hero tries to stay calm, but screams in agony when the terrorist pours alcohol over the stab wound.
Moments later, Bauer is able to escape when he pulls out the heart monitor with his teeth. He takes out his captor by biting his neck so viciously that he rips a chunk of the neck off. Bauer then spits out the flesh and frees himself. Some of the show's fans might have been thrilled -- but did it need to be so vividly gruesome, especially when youngsters are in the audience?
In the Feb. 12 episode, there was another over-the-top scene, this time with a drill. When a terrorist learns that the Americans are hot on his trail and that his time is running out, he holds a hostage against a wall, then plunges a power drill into his back. The whirling drill bit is shown digging into the man's skin, and then the camera hones in on the screaming face of the victim, who then falls to the floor in a pool of blood.
These kinds of intensely graphic scenes are growing more common. The Parents Television Council found that Fox's "24" showed 67 scenes of torture in the first five seasons. To put that in its proper perspective, there were 110 torture scenes in all of primetime television between 1995 and 2001. From 2002 to 2005, the number soared to 624 torture scenes.
The controversy over the show's graphic scenes pits the hardcore action fans against the child protectors. There is a happy medium. Take the really grisly stuff out, and put it in the theaters. If it's a quality show -- like "24" -- it is unnecessary, as witnessed by its spectacular success before this year. Who knows? Maybe my mother will fall in love with Kiefer Sutherland, too.