BEVERLY HILLS — Welcome to the Déjà Vu network. You probably know it better as “Fox.”
Meeting the TV press here Monday morning, Fox does convey the distinct sense that it — and you — have passed this way before. Or maybe it’s just the proliferation of familiar titles that will help fill the network’s fall and midseason schedules: “Prison Break,” “24,” “Lethal Weapon,” and “The Exorcist,” plus a movie reboot of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” A continuation of “The X Files” reboot — a reboot of the reboot, if you will — is expected as well.
Fox has so many reboots that executives have even banished the word “reboot” from their vocabulary. The new preferred term is “existing IP,” meaning “existing intellectual property.”
There are lots of reasons why Fox has embraced the past . . . er, existing IPs more than its rivals.
Foremost, there’s that little thing called “comedy,” which has been murderously difficult for Fox. There’s only a single new one in Fox’s fall lineup — “Son of Zorn,” a series so far outside the usual parameters of what a network comedy looks like that it’s almost a new genre unto itself (that live-action/animated one with a superhero component you might have never heard of before).
The other reason is the one you’ve known of for years, since the reboot trend began. These are series based on familiar franchises; you know them even if you don’t know them. They’ve drifted through popular culture for so long and have resonated so deeply that familiarity is both a given and inescapable consequence.
Dana Walden, chief of the Fox TV Group, told TV writers here that this network — and really any network — has three goals for any new program: “You want to build awareness, build [viewer] intent to view that show, and you want to link shows to your network so when they become aware of it, they’ll want to find it [at the network].”
“Recognizable titles help us majorly in [at least] one of those three objectives.”
But Walden said the various reboots had taken different routes to Fox, and it was almost a coincidence that they happened to land at the same time. She said she’d been asking the creator of “Break” — Paul Scheuring — “for years to do a new version.” (“Break” ended in 2009.)
“We [also] wanted to do a really scary show, and ‘The Exorcist’ title was available, but it took us two years to work through rights.”
Then there’s “Lethal Weapon,” based on one of the best known franchises in (recent) film history which itself was reincarnated three times as a movie following the original 1987 launch.
But the world, and the movies, have moved on since the last time “Weapon” rolled around (in 1998). In fact, Fox’s new “Lethal Weapon” is almost more of a nostalgia play than a reboot by this point.
Starring Damon Wayans as Roger Murtaugh — the character Danny Glover originated — and Clayne Crawford as Martin Riggs (played in the original by Mel Gibson), the new version was faced with the unusual challenge of deciding which “Weapon” to reboot. Over the course of the franchise, “Weapon” — about a pair of LAPD partners, one (Riggs) essentially suicidal after losing his wife in a car accident — changed tonally, from dark to sunny, from drama to dramedy.
Fox opted for the grimmer “Weapon.”
Per executive producer, Matt Miller, the pilot “does play emotionally [dark] which is surprising to people because of the most recent movie version. But the basic idea of this comedy action/drama/family show is that it’s really about two guys who are broken and for different reasons need each other to be whole again.”
Asked about the reasons behind the reboot trend, Wayans said “I don’t watch much TV because I have grandkids, but I just think everybody’s trying to win, and ‘Lethal Weapon’ is a globally iconic piece of property that — as Matt [Miller] said — when you hear the words, ‘Lethal Weapon,’ you smile. [But] the secret sauce is heart, and that’s what went wrong with other franchise reboots. They forgot to put in the heart. People want that warm fuzzy feeling when they watch these, and I think nostalgia does that.”
“Lethal Weapon” premieres Sept. 21.
AMY EVERYWHERE In an unusual casting move — OK, let’s say “unprecedented casting move” until proven otherwise . . . Amy Schumer will play three different animated characters on three different animated Fox series on . . . one night.
And that night is Sept. 25.
Fox TV chief Dana Walden announced Schumer’s latest project here at the TV Critic’s Tour on Monday.
There were no further details about the characters, but the shows are “The Simpsons, “Bob’s Burgers,” and “Family Guy” and, Walden said, Schumer has already taped her parts. The Rockville Centre-raised Schumer is not quite a voice-over novice — she voiced a character on one episode of Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman” last year.
CAREY ON ‘EMPIRE’ Mariah Carey will briefly join “Empire” in a guest role this fall. Per Fox’s news release, Carey “will play Kitty, a mega-superstar who comes to Empire to collaborate with Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) on an explosive new song. When the duet encounters obstacles, Kitty helps Jamal dig deep to overcome personal difficulties and reach a musical breakthrough.” The episode airs Oct. 5.
SIMPSONS NEWS Showrunner Al Jean said a first-ever one-hour “Simpsons” will air in January. This hour will feature “Empire’s” Taraji P. Henson and Keegan-Michael Key (of “Key & Peele”) in guest voice roles.
Meanwhile, the 600th episode — that’s right, six hundred — will air Oct. 16. Here’s the through-line of an episode that will be this year’s “Treehouse of Horror:” “Mr. Burns introduces a ‘Hunger Games’-style contest in which Springfield’s children must fight each other; and Lisa’s imaginary best friend becomes jealous of Lisa’s real best friends.”
REBOOTING ‘ROCKY’ Fox’s most famous reboot — “Rocky Horror,” airing Oct. 8 — is also the trickiest one to execute. It must navigate fan expectations and even somehow incorporate “Rocky’s” famed “call-backs,” or “throw-backs” — those comments that fans yelled at the screen in countless movie theaters during countless midnight showings since 1975. (Fox executives promised Monday that there is indeed a novel callback plan in place).
Lou Adler, executive producer of this as well as the original film — which was directed by Jim Sharman — told TV writers here that “it’s really an audience (participation) film, and has a mind of its own.
“We started to do this television idea quite a while ago but I guess it just wasn’t the right idea. Then, when Tim (Curry, the original Frank N Furter, and commentator in the Fox version) came along and validated it, and then when Kenny (Ortega) came along and said he could direct it, then [I decided] we could take it to another place, while keeping the fans in mind. What Kenny and I have said from the beginning is that it has to be true to the original, but also make it contemporary.”