TCA Summer Tour 2014: Fox: “We need some hits”

The cast of Fox's upcoming drama "Gotham" (Kansascitystar.com)

The cast of Fox’s upcoming drama “Gotham” (Kansascitystar.com)

Fox came into the 2014 press tour finishing the most recent season in  fourth place – despite airing the Super Bowl. With new entertainment presidents Dana Walden and Gary Newman not yet ready to take the reigns, somebody had to take one of the team – and that someone was Peter Rice.

Executive session: Rice came out and talked about the future of aging drama Bones, hoping the procedural can last a few more seasons. Rice also seem pleased with the revival of 24.

Despite declining ratings, Rice refused to throw American Idol under the bus, saying the judges aren’t the problem with the show, but the lack of charisma from the contestants.

And don’t write off New Girl just yet, said Rice, noting the show strong DVR playback numbers and the shift away from live viewing in general.

Rice conceded that this wasn’t the best season for Fox, with a fourth place finish in the 18-49 demographic: “We need some hits”, Rice said.

– Up first was the most anticipated series of the fall season – Gotham, a prequel series to the Batman franchise, featuring a young police commissioner James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) trying to get a hold of the city’s crime problem. One thing you can forget is the superhero angle – it won’t work here, says EP Bruno Heller: “This is noir. The structure that exists around James Gordon is so daunting and challenging that no single man can defeat it.  The notion is that our hero is doomed. “Gotham” is as much about the hope and struggle that everyday people are engaged in. It’s not about superheroes.”

Heller also added: “There will be victories along the way. In creating this show, we talked about New York City in the 1970s. It’s a time when that city was falling apart with decadence and decay. It was both sexy and scary. There’s something about a city as it falls apart that you’re compelled to watch.” (you’d think he was talking about Chicago in 2014.)

Gotham will have a slow rollout of villains, which has The Riddler as a police forensics analyst and Jada Pinkett Smith playing a corrupt nightclub owner, with a sidekick who later into The Penguin.

What happens when you combine Party Of Five with the recent teen hit movie Fault In Our Stars? You get Red Band Society, Fox’s new drama set in a terminal children’s hospital. EP Margaret Nagle notes the young audience is shifting away from Twilight-like dramas: “Teens and twentysomethings aren’t about the immortality as seen in “Twilight”. Rather, they’re more focused on dramas that deal with mortality. They’re very forthright about these things.  The way that the show can work is that it has to tonally go to that place of teen life, i.e. “My So-Called Life”. Even “M.A.S.H.” was an influence with this series. Those shows were willing to go to a place with their material that were off-center, and off-center was where they thrived.”

Scheduled to air on Fox, the series is produced by ABC Studios, indeed a rarity in an era of vertical integration. And Red Band has big names in front of and behind the camera: it stars Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and is exec produced by Steven Spielberg. So why did Ms. Spencer taken on this role? “I got really tired of being a sex symbol,” she joked at the panel.

Utopia was next on the docket, and on this show, people live in a remote area for a year and is challenged to create their own civilization. Nearly 5,000 people applied to be on the show; 40 people are left, and the number will shrink to fifteen. Viewers at home can also have people on the show replaced.

Fox brought some of the contestants to the tour, including a liberal feminist and a tea party activist, who said television needs more people with good morals and values (Oh, watch the fur fly!)

Unlike Survivor and other reality fare, there are no immunity challenges, no prizes, no $1 million being offered. This show is to thrive on conflict, but there has to be more, at least some motivation to make it more interesting. Utopia would’ve succeeded during Fox’s obsession with reality shows in the early 2000’s, but this show comes fifteen years too late. The series premieres Sept. 7 to take advantage of a football lead-in, then moves to its regular Tuesday and Friday slots.

Next up was Gracepoint, a short-term series (ten episodes) about a small town under scrutiny after a murder takes place. As a result, the town is smack in the middle of a police investigation and a national media circus forms. The series is based on BBC America’s/ITV’s Broadchurch, and many critics pointed out the similarities between both shows in the first two episodes of Gracepoint. Even so, the show’s creator denies its a shot-by-shot remake.

Oddly enough, the person who plays the lead investigator in Broadchurch (David Tennant) also plays the same one in Gracepoint.

The final program at Fox’s presentation was also the most panned by critics – Mulraney, a sitcom starring Chicago native John Mulraney, which many describe as reminiscent – or more like a ripoff – of Seinfeld. Mulraney even admitted (jokingly) that he came up with the show by watching Seinfeld: “Just watched “Seinfeld” and copied it. They run it all the time, so it was easy.”  Many in the crowd however, found the pilot flatteringly unfunny.

Fox has ordered sixteen episodes, but yours truly thinks this show won’t last that long.

– Finally, there was a Fox comedy showrunner panel, featuring Al Jean (Simpsons) and Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project.) Yours truly will cover this subject soon in a separate post.

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