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Ask anyone who the best character on the groundbreaking drama 24 was. Most will say the lead character, Jack Bauer. Others may go for another one of the show’s other compelling characters like President David Palmer or Tony Almeida.

They wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, as all of those characters have their high points. But there’s another non-human element of the tv show that looms so large over the proceedings it is almost a character itself: the show’s ever-present ticking clock.

From time to time, the show’s clock went silent, but it was hardly unintentional. There was a morbid reason behind this creative decision. Here’s the story of why 24’s clock stopped ticking. 

’24’ had a unique format with the clock

When the series first aired in 2001, it was a game-changer. The show’s format was simple but effective: every episode was broadcast in real-time, capturing one hour in one day. The entire season added up to an entire day. 

Of course, the format wouldn’t matter if the show wasn’t captivating. It was. It followed the adventures of Jack, head of a fictional government outfit known as the Counterterrorism Unit (CTU). In the first season, Jack attempts to foil a plot to assassinate a presidential candidate. The season ended in a shocking fashion. Jack stops the plot but in doing so loses his wife, who is shot and killed by a former CTU agent. 

Each season of the show saw Jack doing just about anything he could to protect national security. Viewers couldn’t get enough. It was on the air for around a decade, with each season putting Jack in harm’s way regularly and executing the show’s format. 

What does the clock mean?

Kiefer Sutherland
Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer | FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

As noted above, each episode of the show represents another hour of a day passing. At the beginning and end of the show (as well as heading into commercial breaks), viewers could often hear a loud, persistent beeping accompanying an image of the clock. This was meant to increase the tension and remind the viewer of how much time had passed in the episode, as well as how much time was left. 

It’s hard to think of a better dramatic device in a TV show. The clock’s high-pitched, pounding beep left viewers with a visceral feeling of excitement and dread about what was to come. For a show that had so much suspense and unexpected twists, it was just another way to ramp up the tension. 

The clock didn’t always make a noise, however. Here’s why the 24 clock went silent from time to time. 

The morbid reason the ’24’ clock went silent


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Because of the nature of the show, 24 often dealt with death. Whether it was a terrorist or a hero, characters often met their demise during the show’s run on the air. It was unavoidable. Sometimes, when it happened to a villain, this comes as a relief to the audience. Other times, when it was a hero, it served as a sobering reminder that no one in this universe was safe (with the exception of Jack). 

24 used its clock as a way to alert viewers that a major death had just taken place. 

According to Mental Floss, 24’s clock went silent whenever a major character died (or something equally sad or troubling happened). As tense as that pulsing clock could be, there was something even more disturbing about the sight of the clock with no sound behind it. It was a clear sign that something very bad had just happened. It was these kinds of narrative flourishes that made the show such a great success.