Winter TCA: Fox entertainment chief defends ‘The Following’

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“The Following,” a new Fox drama about the hunt for a cult of killers is coming under scrutiny in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month.

Premiering on Jan. 21, “The Following” stars Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent trying to hunt down a group of murderers who are inspired by a charismatic serial killer who is behind bars. The show, which has received good buzz, has no shortage of blood and gore.

Fox Broadcasting Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly defended “The Following” on Tuesday at the semi-annual Television Critics Assn. Press Tour in Pasadena.


“I’m putting on an excellent thriller, I’m not glorifying killers,” Reilly said. “Part of what we do on television is provide escapism. It could be laughter, it could be fantasy, it could also be your worst nightmare come to life.”

The issue of violence in media has heated up lately after Newtown and last summer’s mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Reilly said Fox takes the issue seriously. However, he didn’t think television should be singled out as a culprit.

“We all want to put our finger on one thing and say, ‘that’s the problem,’” Reilly said, adding that the role of media should be part of a “broader societal conversation.”

Kevin Williamson, the creator of “The Following,” acknowledged that the show is “not for the faint of heart.” Williamson, whose previous TV credits include “Dawson’s Creek” and “The Vampire Diaries,” said what happens in the real world does “find its way into what I do.” The youthful killers in “The Following,” he added, were influenced somewhat by the Columbine High School shootings. Williamson said he wanted to “shine a light on some of those kids.”

At the same time, Williamson added that he is writing fiction. “I’m a storyteller.”

The controversy around the show could boost ratings, which would be welcomed by Fox given the bad fall the network endured. Fox was down 20% in viewers and adults ages 18-49.

“It’s been a very tough and disappointing season,” Reilly said. Among the disappointments were the Monday night drama “Mob Doctor,” which was canceled, and new Tuesday comedies “Ben and Kate” and “The Mindy Project,” both of which are struggling. Also, the second season of “The X Factor” with Britney Spears as a judge saw its ratings fall from last year.


As in previous years, Fox is hoping “American Idol” will help the network rebound. The show has three new judges – Keith Urban, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj – and Fox is hoping that sparks between the latter two will bring in viewers.

“This panel has reinvigorated the show,” said Mike Darnell, Fox’s president of alternative entertainment. Darnell acknowledged that “American Idol” has spurned too many copycats but added, “this is still the king of shows, it is the only one that makes stars.”

Fox also announced plans to develop two limited run dramatic series. One of the series, “Wayward Pines,” is from director M. Night Shyamalan.


New ‘American Idol’ judges take stage at TV press tour

Kevin Williamson on hot seat for violence in “The Following”


Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.