<EM>24</EM>'s Kiefer Sutherland and Kim Raver 24's Kiefer Sutherland and Kim Raver

Ever since Jack Bauer was put on a slow boat to China, fans of Fox's 24 have been wondering if their hero's next challenging day (which kicks off with a two-hour premiere on Jan. 14, 2007) will be more personal fight for freedom than a battle against terrorism. "I think every season is a personal struggle for Jack," executive producer Howard Gordon told TVGuide.com at a party celebrating the Season 5 DVD release. Bauer's latest crucible, Gordon adds, will address "security versus civil rights... this season will be our most uncomfortable."

Television vet Rick Schroder joins the ensemble cast this coming season as Mike Doyle, described as a "forceful CTU operative," and a partner for Jack. When asked for further details on Schroder's role, series lead Kiefer Sutherland, who also serves as a producer, remained mum — but not for the reasons you might think! "In all fairness, I have not been given those scripts yet," the Emmy winner told us. "I've just been given the news of [Schroder being cast] as well. But Rick's a wonderful actor. The work he did on NYPD Blue was fantastic."

Does the fact that ABC put The Nine on hiatus affect the availability of Kim Raver, who already had hopes of moonlighting as Jack's love interest, Audrey? The answer is both yes and no. "Kim had a contract with The Nine that if a story line [on 24] developed for her, then she could do both," pointed out Sutherland, who is hoping that the actress, who was on hand for the DVD gala, reports for duty soon. "I would work with her till the day I die," Sutherland raved. While there are no specifics as to when we'll see Audrey — though likely not until mid-season, as reported last week by TVGuide.com — Gordon says that the character is definitely "in the mix."

Jack will have plenty of familiar faces to keep him company in the meantime. Emmy nominees Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart are set to return as the disgraced and dysfunctional President and Martha Logan. Carlo Rota is reprising his role as Chloe's exasperating ex, Morris. (Regarding his ability to infuse some humor into 24's trademark edge-of-your-seat drama, Rota said, "I was concerned about that, but the response has been very good.") Also, after a "four-day" hiatus from CTU, Eric Balfour returns as Milo Pressman.

Additionally, Day 6 brings many new but familiar faces, including James Cromwell (as Jack's estranged father), Chad Lowe (as a savvy politico), Deadwood's Powers Boothe (as the vice president), Numbers' Peter MacNicol (as a presidential advisor), In Justice's Marisol Nichols and HeroesRena Sofer (as bad-guy Graem's wife). As is the case with Raver, Sofer doesn't anticipate having a problem juggling both shows — or adhering to 24's policy of protecting story lines. "I can't talk about anything," she politely but firmly replied when asked about her role, only divulging that her name is Marilyn. Nichols was a bit more forthcoming about her character, Nadia Yassir, describing her as "Pakistani/American and second-in-command at CTU."

Joining the show as its newest villain is Adoni Maropis (Hidalgo), who describes his character, Abu Fayed, as "the ultimate terrorist." Under the cliché "everything happens for a reason," Maropis was supposed to have been on 24 a few seasons ago in a one-episode role, which could have impeded his being cast for Day 6. "It broke my heart when they cut the scene," he recalled, "but it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me." Is Maropis ready to become TV's most hated man? "I worry about that. But I've been told not to [worry], and that people love bad guys on 24."

Amid all the life-and-death intrigue, might the CTU personnel have time for some "personal" relationships during this new harrowing day? After all, at Season 5's end, Karen Hayes took a rain check when CTU's Bill Buchanan asked her out to breakfast.... As James Morrison (Bill) quipped, the two "went out to IHOP. Not many people know about that."

Hey, we'll take any secrets we can get.

Speaking of courageous crime solvers, pick up the Dec. 11 TV Guide for scoop on CBS' red-hot Criminal Minds.

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