Three weeks after the most horrific school shooting in American history, Fox chief Kevin Reilly appeared before TV critics and writers in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday to defend the extreme violence in new series "The Following." By all accounts -- at least via Twitter -- it did not go well. Blood-soaked as "The Following" apparently is -- and no, I have not yet seen it -- critics seemed in a mood to go after content. Sometimes they do, sometimes not, while the show that's been a poster child for content issues on recent tours ("Two Broke Girls") has been hacked at for everything from cheap sex jokes to borderline racist accents (a key Asian character's accent has since been dropped). Violence, however, has not always been a topic, but it clearly is now.
Asked about the Kevin Bacon-James Purefoy thriller about a guy obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe who convinces his followers to do terrible things to nice people (see trailer, below), Reilly said, according to a quote from Entertainment Weekly's James Hibberd: “I didn’t call Standards and say, ‘Buckle up, we are pushing boundaries’ … it feels more intense than it is … when you’re doing a thriller, you have to compete on this level of intensity.”
Showrunner Kevin Williamson -- who apparently really took the brunt of the spit-laden balls -- said of Sandy Hook, "We sat in the writers room after that happened and we’re all traumatized by it. There’s a moment where it becomes too real.”
How bad did this exchange get? Bad enough for Dan Fienberg of HitFix to tweet this:
Violence in society IS a broad conversation. The head of TV's most popular net should be capable of engaging in PART of that conversation.
My two cents on the violence question? So happy you want to know! This'll boil over -- be forgotten in a month or two. And if the show is a hit, Fox will be glad to make you forget about it. Violence in TV is a very old and very rancorous issue long ignored by the networks to the point of social irresponsibilty. And while the question of whether "The Following" is glorifying a serial killer, what exactly is the violence in "Criminal Justice" or "Hawaii Five-O" justifying? (And speaking of "Justified" -- and what about "SOA" or "Boardwalk Empire" -- anyone see this season's conclusion?) The networks just want this question -- the one pointedly raised by thoughtful critics Tuesday -- to go away.
But I'm gonna reserve my thoughts on "Following" until I've seen it. Meanwhile, a brand new promo: