Tuned In: Fox's 'Gotham' a dark take on the Dark Knight

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – One of fall’s most anticipated new series takes the Batman origins story and jettisons the superhero in favor of a mortal hero and a batch of villains.

Fox’s “Gotham” (8 p.m. Monday beginning Sept. 22) rehashes the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents and then turns its focus to the investigation lead by Det. James Gordon (Ben McKenzie, “Southland”).

In the course of Gordon’s inquiry, viewers meet early versions of characters who will become infamous, including Oswald “the Penguin” Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), Edward "the Riddler" Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) and Selena “Catwoman” Kyle (Camren Bicondova) along with a newly created villain, Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith).

“How do you deal with crime of this level when there are no superheroes just ordinary mortal men and women trying to solve these issues?  It‘‍s as much about hope and the struggle they are engaged in as waiting for a savior,” said executive producer Bruno Heller (“The Mentalist,” “Rome”). “It’s about men and women, it’s not about superheroes and to me that’s a more interesting story.”

Mr. Heller called Gordon, who fans of the Batman mythology know will advance in rank to become Commissioner Gordon, the moral linchpin of “Gotham.”

“He’s the guy who created Batman or gave Batman permission to exist in that world,” Mr. Heller said. “It’s the journey of a man from someone who’s all about law and order to someone who accepts this dark vigilante.”

Mr. Heller compared Gotham in this series to New York in the 1970s in terms of crime levels. And the look of the show – ’‍70s cars existing alongside flip phones – is intended to evoke a mashup of the past and present for a timeless quality.

It also turns out to be fairly violent. “Gotham” bears no resemblance stylistically to the 1960s Adam West TV series; it’s much more in line with the dark, brooding Christopher Nolan film trilogy, including shot-in-Pittsburgh “Dark Knight Rises.”

“Violence, if you show it, should be disturbing,” Mr. Heller said. “That’s the only moral way to show violence. ... This is a crime story and crime is violent. ... It’s up to an audience and parents to decide what standards they wish their kids to cleave to in terms of what they’ll let them watch on TV.”

Mr. Heller compared the violence in “Gotham” to what’s been depicted in Batman comic books and graphic novels.

“They’re about a morally compromised, violent world,” he said. “We’re not taking this somewhere they haven’t before.”

In other Fox news, Fox Networks Group chairman Peter Rice was upbeat on the prospect of more “24.”

“We haven't had specific conversations about it coming back yet but I'm sure we will in the future,” he said. “When you look at the show itself, I think it has many more stories to tell. But we have to sit down and talk to the creators about it.”

TCA Awards winner

The Television Critics Association honored TV's best Saturday night at the 30th annual TCA Awards.

I am a voting member of TCA and my big disappointment in these picks is that we failed to honor FX's nominated “Fargo,” which I found to be far superior entertainment to best miniseries winner “True Detective.”

But, hey, at least we gave “The Good Wife” the best drama series award; the Emmys didn't even give “The Good Wife” a nomination.

The TCA Awards are not televised, much to the relief of the stars and all those involved because it keeps it a more intimate ceremony. It's just about celebrating good work.

This year's ceremony kicked off with Terry Crews (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) as host alongside his surprise date: Miss Piggy. The pair sang a duet that worked in all kinds of TV show titles, including this line: “You live in a 'House of Cards' or is it a ‘‍House of Lies'?”

Miss Piggy thought she was at the TSA Awards rather than TCA Awards.

Eventually, Crews cracked too many pig jokes at her expense and she gave him her patented karate kick “hi-ya!”

“True Detective” star Matthew McConaughey showed up to collect his award for individual achievement in a drama, thanking critics for helping shine a light on the series: “Y’‍all helped us get started.”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus won for individual achievement in comedy.

“You know why I love critics?” she asked. “Because I love being criticized ... positively.”

ABC Family’s worthy “The Fosters” won in the youth programming category, beating my preferred choice, “Daniel Tiger‘‍s Neighborhood.” “The Fosters” follows a family headed by a lesbian couple who take in several foster children.

“I really believe TV is important,” said executive producer Peter Paige. “I really believe media changes the world. When you’re not seen on TV, you feel invisible.”

Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” was named outstanding new program with star Kate Mulgrew praising writer Jenji Kohan: “When she writes, Jenji Kohan takes no prisoners.”

HBO’s “Veep” tied with FX’s “Louie” for best comedy. “Veep” creator Armando Iannucci acknowledged the many Washington politicians who gave the show’‍s writers access and tips.

“And we repaid them by portraying them as the shallow suck-ups they are,” he said.

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” received TCA’s Heritage Award with new “Weekend Update” anchor Colin Jost accepting on behalf of executive producer Lorne Michaels and the 140 cast members and 220 writers in the show’s almost 40-year history. Mr. Jost said he grew up watching the show in the Chris Farley-Adam Sandler era, which he recalls critics calling “Saturday Night Dead.”

“They look pretty darn good in retrospect,” Mr. Jost said. “Just saying.”

TV comedy director James Burrows won the Career Achievement award, noting, “You guys write stuff and I don’t always agree with it, but I do agree with this.”

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” cast made one last victory lap, collecting the program of the year prize.

“Everyone’s thanking HBO,” noted “Bad” star Bryan Cranston. “So thank you HBO: You turned us down. That’s alright. I’m going to work with you soon.”

HBO will adapt “All the Way,” a stage play that starred Mr. Cranston on Broadway, for premium cable.

Cranston acknowledged the premise of “Breaking Bad” – chemistry teacher gets cancer, makes meth – was “such a bad idea. I don’t blame HBO. But we’re very thankful to AMC, which was desperate.”

Other winners included Fox’s “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey” for outstanding news and information program and Logo’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for outstanding reality program.

NFL on CBS Thursday

CBS made a one-year deal with the NFL to air eight games on Thursday nights this fall, beginning Sept. 11 with the Steelers going against the Baltimore Ravens. It’s a deal that seems to be in the better interest of the NFL, which is trying to raise the profile of the NFL Network.

For weeks two through eight of the NFL season (and again on week 16), the games will be simulcast on NFL Network with the benefit of CBS’s on-air broadcast team. (For weeks 9-12 and 14-16, games will air on NFL Network and on local stations.)

CBS would clearly like the deal to go beyond one year but at a CBS press conference Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke of the NFL‘‍s goals.

“We wanted to take what we had started on the NFL Network, continue to grow the NFL Network, but really create a greater awareness of the NFL on Thursday night in a franchise that we all will be proud of,” he said. “We believe very much in the NFL Network as a strategic asset. I fully anticipate, going forward, that we'll continue to have games on the NFL Network.”

Of course, that could derail CBS’s hopes for making a longer-term deal next year.

“It is our job to show the NFL what we can do and how great it's going to be and how great the partnership is going to be,” said CBS president Leslie Moonves.

“And we're confident that at the end of the year, they're going to feel like CBS did a tremendous job. As Roger said, this is a building process. This is the first year. But we're confident that after this year is over, they'll sit down and, hopefully, give us a longer deal than that.”

A pregame show will begin at 6 p.m. on NFL Network and CBS will begin its pregame coverage at 7:30 p.m. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher will be part of the broadcast team and unlike on Sunday games, Mr. Cowher will not be in the New York studio; he’ll travel to game locations weekly from New York, where he now makes his home.

“I’m almost having to work for a living now,” Mr. Cowher joked. “I’m looking forward to it. In the past we were only on-site for the Super Bowl.”

Mr. Cowher called the Thursday slate of games “the best they’ve ever had. Every game except one is a divisional game.”

As for his assessment of the Steelers going into a new season, Mr. Cowher sounded an optimistic note.

“I think they’ll be fine,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of speed and I think they’re developing their offensive line. The big key will be staying healthy.”

Channel surfing

Later this month PBS’s “Frontline” will air a 90-minute documentary, “Losing Iraq” (10 p.m. July 29, WQED-TV), about the political stories behind the Iraq War’s defining moments and how they may have led to the country’s current state. ... “Good Morning America” weekend co-anchor Bianna Golodryga will depart for a gig with Yahoo! News. She’ll be replaced by ABC News correspondent Paula Faris. ... “Teen Wolf” star Tyler Posey will host Fox’s “Teen Choice 2014” at 8 p.m. Aug. 10.

A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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