Kiefer Sutherland by Albert Watson/Fox
Season 7 of 24 promises to be its tensest yet - at least on the set.

Execs at the Fox hit have scrapped virtually their entire story line for the season, delaying the start of production by roughly three weeks. According to sources, the 11th-hour time-out was called after the network put the kibosh on a costly plan to shoot a number of episodes in Africa. Producers briefly toyed with the idea of finding a location in Los Angeles that could sub for the continent, but they ultimately decided to ditch the whole concept and start over from scratch.

Although a Twentieth Century Fox spokesperson declined to comment, 24's expert scowler, Mary Lynn Rajskub, confirms that the clock for Day 7 has been reset. "I don't know what's going on over there, but they're going crazy," says the scene-stealer, who learned only last week that Chloe would be returning. "We usually start [back up] at the end of July, and I don't think we're starting until a couple of weeks into August now. It's kind of exciting, because I think [the postponement] means that they're really having to dig in there and come up with new stuff."

The show's creative team was no doubt already feeling the pressure: Day 6 was considered to be about as explosive as a wet firecracker, so for Season 7 they really needed a plot that was incendiary. In fact, news of the setback comes on the same day the semiannual Television Week critics' poll (in which yours truly participated) named 24 the second-worst show on TV, behind ABC's best-not-traveled October Road.

For more on 24's big rewrite - including what impact it'll have on plans to introduce the show's first female president - check out Ask Ausiello this Wednesday.