Ellen Gray | 'Unit' 's Haysbert regrets '24' exit scene

Posted: March 21, 2007

DENNIS HAYSBERT is still smarting a bit about his final exit from Fox's "24," in which his character, former President David Palmer, took a bullet to the head.

And it's not because Palmer's assassination last season put Haysbert out of a job.

The actor, who was visiting the new 15th and Spring Garden streets studios of KYW (Channel 3) yesterday to talk about "The Unit" (9 p.m. Tuesdays, Channel 3), said he'd already filmed the pilot of the CBS military drama when "24" brought him back to film the scene he described as "the only thing in my career that I ever regretted."

Palmer's death is one of the few that seems to resonate both with characters and viewers of a show where the weekly body count occasionally runs into the thousands, but Haysbert's not comforted.

"I don't think any death gives anybody any satisfaction, really, or has any meaning. It was a device, and a device that I didn't think was necessary," said the actor, who was accompanied on his visit by his brother, Adam, who lives in Mount Airy.

Haysbert may have crossed into Jack Bauer territory to play Sgt. Major Jonas Blane, leader of a super-secret counter-terrorism team, but he seems more comfortable with "The Unit's" politics.

"All the stories have a spine of truth," he said, many coming from the experiences of co-executive producer Eric L. Haney, a founding member of Delta Force and the author of "Inside Delta Force: The Story of America's Elite Counter-Terrorist Unit."

Asked about recent reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates might cut back on some of the Pentagon's intelligence activities, Haysbert noted that "we make pretty subtle statements - some subtle and some not so subtle - about CIA and FBI within 'The Unit.' "

Look not to "24" for subtlety.

"I started to watch it this season, and, you know, I'm just a little disappointed in its direction. But I remain a fan of the people I worked with, both in front of and behind the camera," he said.

"I think the politics has been skewed in a very, very right-wing way," he added, pointing to outspokenly conservative executive producer Joel Surnow.

"I never did like his politics. Very, very right-wing. I'm glad I'm not there because of the people [he brings] on the set," including Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, "people like that."

Neither Coulter nor Limbaugh visited when Haysbert was present, but "I heard about it," he said.

As for Haysbert himself, "I'm very pro-military, I'm not pro-war. And I think that's what ['The Unit'] is, it's pro-military. It's not pro-war."

Help keep 'Lights' on

If you've been keeping up with NBC's "Friday Night Lights" (and if you have, bless you), you know Panthers Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has been offered a better job elsewhere.

There probably isn't a better job anywhere, though, for Chandler, who's done some of the best work of his career in "Lights," surrounded by actors who are also having an experience that comes along only once in a while.

I worry a lot that this is one of those shows everyone's going to fall in love with next year on Netflix and then wonder why NBC didn't make any more. But I also know how off-putting it can be to join a series in March that's been on since fall.

So I'm making this offer: If you watch tonight (8 p.m., Channel 10) and get tripped up by some bit of backstory, you can e-mail me tomorrow and I'll do my best to fill you in on whatever you need to keep coming back for the season's final three.

Because if you wait for a DVD, there may be only one set. *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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