Ellen Gray | '24' a terrorist playbook? For Sutherland, that's a hoot

24. 9 p.m. Mondays, Channel 29.

CHATSWORTH, CALIF. - So it's been only a few days since Fox's "24" ended its four-hour season premiere with a mushroom cloud rising over southern California - and the threat of four more - but Kiefer Sutherland, making a rare appearance on the show's CTU set, looks surprisingly well-rested.

And far enough into shooting Season 6 that he needs to be reminded just what happened Monday night.

There's probably not a question about "24" that Sutherland hasn't heard over the years - he may not have answered them, but he's pretty much heard them all - and what comes through loud and clear is that this is one actor who knows he's on a TV show.

So when a reporter asks him to respond to a viewer who thinks that "24's" nuking Los Angeles might inspire real-world terrorism, he practically hoots.

"Oh, please," he said. "If terrorists are in fact getting ideas from '24,' we're a lot safer than we thought. That's just ridiculous.

"We're making a show about counterterrorism, and within the context of our show [a nuclear attack is] obviously a reality, and this time it happened. It's not the first time, either. In Season 2, we had one go off in the desert," he said.

If viewers are turned off by "24" going nuclear, "I think they would've been turned off by a lot of things, long before that," he said.

Sutherland continues to believe that death is the only logical end for Jack Bauer. (The writers go back and forth, he said, joking, "I'm sure when they've been mad at me, it's 'Kill him NOW.' ")

But if Jack didn't die, what would Sutherland like to see happen to the character who's experienced so many Really Bad Days?

"I'd like to see it work out, then. I'd like to see him have that relationship that he's wanted. I'd like to see everything with his daughter work out. I would like to see him get his life back."

Higher and higher

Every January, Fox executives - including Northeast Philadelphia's Mike Darnell, who's the network's "reality" guru - wait nervously to see whether the opening ratings of "American Idol" will finally take a dip.

This isn't the year.

Tuesday's sixth-season premiere averaged an astounding 37.3 million viewers, according to the preliminary Nielsens, breaking last year's record by nearly 2 million viewers. Between 9:30 and 10 - despite the fact that the audition shows don't end in any big revelations - viewership peaked at 41.48 million, with an estimated 40 percent of the 18- to-49-year-old audience tuned in.

NBC shows some love

NBC entertainment president Kevin Reilly yesterday announced full-season pickups for 2007-08 for "Heroes," "My Name Is Earl," "The Office" and "Law & Order: SVU."

What's that mean for shows like "30 Rock," "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Friday Night Lights," which have struggled in the ratings? Reilly, asked if the success of "Heroes" and "The Office" had lowered the bar for other shows' renewal, was noncommittal.

"I don't know if it lowers the bar, necessarily, but it creates a counterweight," he said during the Television Critics Association's winter meetings in Pasadena. "I do think we brought the love back this year to the network."

New this weekend

Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" has been adapted and re-adapted almost as long as there have been motion pictures - the Internet Movie Database lists productions as early as 1910 - but PBS' latest "Masterpiece Theatre" (9 p.m. Sunday and Jan. 28, Channel 12) is one of the liveliest I can remember seeing.

And possibly the most sensual.

Ruth Wilson is luminous as the plain-Jane governess who catches the eye, and the heart, of her employer, Mr. Rochester (Toby Stephens). And though the bones of Bronte's story remain, and even some of the dialogue, the pair's interactions, especially in the second night, might well have made the author blush, some 19th-century restrictions being thought perhaps unsuited to 21st-century audiences. (Not that any clothing comes off.) This is no "Reader, I married him" retelling, but a fresh romance born of a very old story.

Sunday also marks the premiere of "The Dresden Files" (9 p.m., Sci Fi). Paul Blackthorne plays Harry Dresden, a Chicago-based wizard detective (he's listed in the Yellow Pages) whose specialty is cracking crimes committed by otherworldly means.

Based on the novels of Jim Butcher, it's film noir-meets-"Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and good, if occasionally gruesome, fun.

Note to "Battlestar Galactica" fans: The series returns at 10 p.m. Sunday, following "The Dresden Files," its new time slot, with the first fresh episode of the new year. *

Ellen Gray (graye@phillynews.com) is attending the Television Critics Association's winter meetings. Read more on her blog at go.philly.com/ellengray.