There have been more violent shows on TV than Fox’s new serial killer drama “The Following” and “clearly there is an appetite — people like these things,” Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly told TV critics Tuesday.
The network has no plans to tinker with the eagerly anticipated stomach churner in the wake of last month’s murder of 20 elementary school children and several adults in Connecticut, Reilly told TV critics attending Winter TV Press Tour 2013 in Pasadena.
Kevin Bacon stars in the series, as a former FBI agent brought back to track down a serial killer (James Purefoy) who has created a cult of killers around him.
In the first episode, a woman commits suicide by stabbing herself in the eye and piercing her skull with an ice pick; in another a man is set on fire at a coffee stand.
Reilly noted last season’s No. 1 scripted TV series was the ghoulish AMC zombie drama “The Walking Dead.”
“When you put on a thriller you have to compete at that level… We must match the intensity, otherwise we’ll pale in comparison,” Reilly told critics who’d asked him about the role of TV violence, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting last month.
“Before there was cable, Fox was cable,” Reilly waxed nostalgically, adding that it’s his goal with shows like “The Following” to “get some of the Fox back in Fox.”
“The Following,” debuting Jan 21, “adheres to broadcast standards,” Reilly said.
“If you put this [series] through the filter of Broadcast Standards, there’s nothing on that show we even had to fight over,” Reilly said. “I didn’t call [Fox’s Standards and Practices Department] and say, ‘Buckle up – this one’s pushing the boundaries’.”
Series creator Kevin Williamson said his new show is “not for the faint of heart.”
“It’s definitely -- there’s some moments it’s squeamish… You have to kind of look away. But it’s not the sum of the show,” he said.
“There’s also drama and emotion and a lot of other things running through it. I take it episode by episode… Some episodes, I find, oh, wow, a lot of people died this week. Okay. So then when I sit down to write, no one dies the next week.”
Williamson said he and his writers were “traumatized” by the Sandy Hook school murders.
“So when I take pen to paper, there is a reaction to it and it sort of finds its way into what I do,” he said.
Asked how it will find its way into his work on the show he answered, “I don’t know. We’ll find out. It just happened.”
It trivializes the issue to link the deaths at Sandy Hook to television, and to broadcast television in particular, Reilly scolded, adding that “you can’t draw a direct linkage.”
“We have an FCC license and we take that seriously,” he said, adding that Fox is open to an industry-wide discussion about violent content.
But, he said, “everyone is looking for a scapegoat, or wanting to put a finger on one thing that’s the problem…We are just in an age of complex issues. It’s no one simple thing.”
Meanwhile, CBS, which has yet to make its presentations at the tour, should be steeling itself for the questions.
Two days before Reilly spoke to the critics, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt defended his new serial killer drama “Hannibal,” saying he thought his other serial killer drama “Dexter” (Greenblatt used to head programming at Showtime) was not as violent as CBS’s “Criminal Minds.”
On Tuesday, a TV critic asked Reilly if he thought “The Following” was as violent as “Criminal Minds.”