Tuned In from Hollywood: Fox head defends violent 'Following'
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PASADENA, Calif. -- While NBC crows about its ratings success, Fox has faced a tougher road. The Tuesday comedy block that Fox executives worked years to build got trounced by rival networks, including two freshman comedies on NBC. "The Voice" overshadowed Fox's "The X Factor" in pop culture buzz and ratings.
Fox's troubles may not be over. On Jan. 21 the network debuts "The Following," a series about an FBI agent (Kevin Bacon) tracking down the devotees of a serial killer (James Purefoy). It features several gruesome deaths in its pilot episode, including a woman who stabs herself in the eye with an ice pick.
In light of last month's Newtown elementary school massacre and as questions proliferate about guns and the tone of American popular culture, the timing for "The Following" seems less than ideal.
"There are some moments that are squeamish and not for the faint of heart where you have to look away, but it's not the sum of the show," said "The Following" writer/creator Kevin Williamson ("The Vampire Diaries," "Dawson's Creek"). He said the impact of the school shooting is something he can't help but think about when writing. "Who wasn't affected by Sandy Hook? ... I know what happens in the real world affects me when I take pen to paper. There is a reaction to it."
But Mr. Williamson also noted, "These shows are huge hits in other countries that don't have the violence problems we have here."
Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly defended "The Following," noting it's not the 10th iteration of a serial killer show he's putting on Fox. He also pointed out the popularity of violent TV shows ("The Walking Dead") and movies (A "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake was No. 1 at the box office this past weekend) and said entertainment companies are in business to provide programming the public likes.
"You are constantly monitoring shifts in current events and things that reflect society and at times you try to drive it, but it comes with responsibility," he said. "I don't like to trivialize an issue by drawing a direct linkage between anything. We take everything we put on the air with the utmost responsibility."
Mr. Reilly said he also has a responsibility as a businessman to compete vigorously for viewer attention, not just with other broadcasters but with cable outlets.
"That doesn't mean every show we put on should be pushing the standards and our standards are much more conservative than 'The Walking Dead' or any basic cable show," he said, noting if Fox does not compete on that same level of intensity, its programs will pale in comparison to those on basic cable.
As for the Fox Tuesday comedy block, Mr. Reilly plans to stick with it in hopes that viewers will find it.
"Our shows weren't sampled and rejected," he said. "I believe in those shows. ... I'm old-fashioned. I think good work will pay off."
In addition to "The Following," Fox brings back "American Idol" (8 p.m. Jan. 16, WPGH) for its 12th season. This time the judges' panel comprises Randy Jackson and newcomers Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban.
Much has been written about a supposed feud between Ms. Carey and Ms. Minaj, whether it's real or a publicity stunt, who knows.
"Whatever feuds there's been, it isn't just Nicki and Mariah," said executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. "Keith and Randy have their say as well."
"It's authentic," assured Mike Darnell, president of Fox alternative entertainment. "There is passion in this group. They disagree about a lot of the talent."
One reporter asked Ms. Carey and Ms. Minaj to say something nice about the other one. Ms. Minaj did a better job on that.
"I tell her all the time how much of a fan I am of her," Ms. Minaj said. "She's one of my favorite artists of all time, and she really shaped a generation of singers."
"That was obviously a very sweet thing to say," Ms. Carey said. "Nicki and I worked together very early on in her career, and a song from an album I'd done, a song called 'Up Out My Face,' ironically, it was one of my favorite videos and songs and I felt she was going to go very far and still have that feeling and I'm grateful for anything nice anyone would say about me."
Given the "Kumbaya" tone, the pair were asked how they mended fences after last fall's leaks about their disputes.
"I put on my sex tape," Ms. Minaj said, referring to another scandal that pre-dates her being picked to be on "Idol."
"And there it is," Ms. Carey replied. "The whole thing distracts from the show and the contestants, and I think it's unfair to them. It shouldn't be about any one of us sitting up here. ... I think time sorts everything."
"And I watched my sex tape," Ms. Minaj said again.
"And there it is again," Ms. Carey said.
"Have you ever had an argument with anyone you've worked with?" Ms. Minaj asked the questioner.
"It was sort of a one side thing," Ms. Carey said.
"No, it wasn't," Ms. Minaj said.
And so it goes.
As for the show itself, Mr. Darnell said the panel will reinvigorate "Idol" despite the increased competition from other programs ("The Voice," most notably) for viewer attention.
"There's too many of these shows on the air, and they're probably all taking each other down a bit [in the ratings]," he said. "This is the only one that makes stars. Period. And I think people keep coming back to it for that reason."
Fox has no plans to air the reboot of sketch comedy show "In Living Color" that was filmed last year ("It just didn't seem like it would reinvent the next chapter," Mr. Reilly said). ... E! will debut a new celeb-reality series, "What Would Ryan Lochte Do?" starring the Olympic swimmer, this spring. ... Fox will launch its late-night Saturday block of new animated shows July 27. ... Fox has renewed "Bones" for a ninth season to air during the 2013-14 TV season. ... Seth Rogen will guest star on the Feb. 19 episode of "The Mindy Project" as Mindy's first kiss. ... Comcast will make Showtime on demand programming (but not the channel itself) available to non-Showtime customers Jan. 11-13, including early streaming of "Shameless," "House of Lies" and "Californication" in advance of their Sunday night season premieres (look for Showtime Freeview via the main on demand menu). ... Comcast has added BBC World News to its digital preferred package on Channel 108 or 124 in traditional Comcast systems and Channel 111 on former Adelphia systems. ... History's "The Men Who Built America," which features the story of Andrew Carnegie, will be out on Blu-ray ($39.99) and DVD ($29.98) on Jan. 22. ... New year, new evening lineup on WPMY. Channel 22 rearranged some of its evening programming Monday. Here's the new lineup: "TMZ" (4 p.m.), "Dish Nation" (4:30 p.m.), "Family Guy" (5 p.m.), "That '70s Show" (5:30 p.m.), "Family Guy" (6 p.m.), "American Dad" (6:30 p.m.). In addition "The Jeff Probst Show" has moved to 4 a.m. preceded at 3:30 a.m. by "Are We There Yet."
On the web
Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.
First Published January 9, 2013 12:00 am