During its breathless, ticktock eight-season run, "24" has given viewers numerous delights, apart from Jack Bauer's crazy knack for staying alive.
The audience for this rambunctious Fox thriller fondly recalls President David Palmer, a black man in the White House who may have helped normalize that concept for white voters in 2008. Meanwhile, everyone adores computer whiz Chloe O'Brian, an indispensable if cranky colleague of Bauer's in the Counter Terrorist Unit.
But no one on "24" can overshadow Charles Logan, the former chief executive who commanded the fifth season as scoundrel, boob and treasonous schemer. Deliciously played by Gregory Itzin, President Logan stayed busy at his waffling, cover-ups, secret deals with terrorists, even an implicit role in Palmer's assassination — all of it done (as Logan never tired of saying) "in the best interests of the country."
Ultimately thwarted by Bauer (series star Kiefer Sutherland), Logan resigned and was placed under house arrest.
But in TV drama as in the real world, disgraced politicians don't necessarily vanish. They hatch a way to rehabilitate themselves (or their image, at least), then re-enter the arena.
So hail to President Logan in the person of Itzin, who returns for Monday's episode, then continues through the remainder of this season, Day 8, which was recently pronounced the last. Midway through a season beset by series fatigue and ratings erosion, he could be the spark to send off "24" in a fitting blaze of glory. ("24" airs at 9 p.m. EDT.)
"It's pretty nifty to be invited back to this groundbreaking show and be part of how they wrap up the story," Itzin was saying last week over breakfast at a Times Square hotel.
This season's crisis du jour focuses on a global peace accord gone sideways, with a threat to nuke Manhattan and the Webcast execution of a key Mideast leader thrown in.
Logan, no stranger to such plights (especially those of his own making), is brought in to consult with President Allison Taylor.
"I'm a little more of a pragmatist, a realist," said Itzin, meaning his presidential alter ego. "President Taylor needs somebody to whisper in her ear and take her to the dark side, because she's such a good person. She's such a straight arrow!"
As Itzin spoke, Logan was finally, truly over for him. He had wrapped his "24" scenes little more than a week earlier in Los Angeles. Then, leaving behind for now his wife of 30 years, Judie, whom he made clear he was already missing, he had returned to New York to resume preparations for his next project: a starring role on Broadway in an ambitious British import, "Enron." He portrays another world-class scoundrel, Kenneth Lay.
Years before Bernie Madoff, Lay became the poster boy for white-collar crime. Financial shenanigans drove Lay's Houston-based energy company, Enron, into bankruptcy in 2001, costing thousands of employees their jobs and wiping out billions from investors as Lay emerged apparently awash with money to spend.
Lay was indicted in 2004 on numerous counts of securities fraud and in May 2006 found guilty of all, but two months later died of a heart attack before his sentencing could take place.
"Money scandals are hardly new to the human condition," Itzin noted. "Venality and trying to beat the system, along with excuses, continue in others. But the entertainment value of this piece I think is huge."
Previews of "Enron" begin this week, with the premiere April 27, and after finishing his egg-white omelet, Itzin would be heading for the Broadhurst Theatre down the street for a final rehearsal. To help him get in the mood as Lay, he was sporting one of his own blazers with an American flag pinned on the lapel — a pin he had worn as President Logan!
"I'm kind of used to playing villains," said Itzin, who, in person, free of Logan's stuffiness, is friendly and engaging. "What I like to do is to find why they're villains, and show the humanity in the midst of it." The effect of playing Logan: "People say to me, 'I hated you and at the same time I kind of feel bad for you.'" Mission accomplished.
Itzin, who turns 62 this month, is a seasoned actor with a wide range of roles under his belt. The Burlington, Wis., native began his career by studying at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre, and besides his many theater roles, has appeared on scores of television shows including "L.A. Law,""The Practice" and "Boston Legal." After his initial run in "24," he had a recurring role on "The Mentalist."
"But '24' put me on the map after years of being a journeyman actor," he said. "It was the most fun I ever had in front of a camera."
His "24" stint began in the fourth season, as three episodes that featured Logan grew to nine. He dominated in the fifth season, then returned briefly for the sixth, when Martha, his former first lady, tried to stab him to death.
Itzin said since then he had been lobbying "24" executive producer Howard Gordon for an encore.
"Right about the time that I told myself, 'This borders on begging,' Howard said, 'You know, a couple of the writers have been talking ...'"
On the "24" set since late last year, Itzin carries on through the finale — which begs the question: How will "24" end?
"They played around with different endings," he sort-of confided. "One was a Jack-rides-into-the-sunset kind of thing, which made me go, 'Ahhh, that would be nice.' And then they said, 'But we're not going to do that.'"
Itzin laughed and speculated that the "24" clock will run out in a rawer, less heartwarming way.
It concludes May 24, and like all "24" devotees, Itzin, with wife Judie, will be watching to see how. By a happy coincidence, he should have that night off. Mondays, most shows on Broadway are dark.