TCA: Fox gears up for “Idol”, “Following”

Fox-logoNews Corp.’s two networks (Fox and FX) went back-to-back days at the TCA Winter Press Tour last week and touted the new-look Idol, new drama The Following, and more:

Executive session: Fox executive Kevin Reilly addressed the critics at the press tour on Jan. 8 and admitted the fall schedule wasn’t what he hoped for ratingswise – but at least he showed some sense of humor about it: “We all screw up – look at my fall!” Reilly quipped to roaring laughter. Well, he can breathe a sigh of relief with American Idol back on the schedule. Like other network chiefs, Reilly addressed the TV violence issue in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy and defended the network’s decision to air gritter fare (i.e. The Following), saying the audience appetite is there and Fox needs to compete with cable networks who are offering similar content.

Reilly said he was pleased with X Factor and would welcome Britney Spears back for a second season as a judge (she declined.) Despite being frustrated with the low ratings for it, Reilly said Fox is committed to its Tuesday night sitcom block and decided to debut The Goodwin Games this summer, and renewed Bones for a ninth season.

The Following panel was quite a lively one as critics gave an earful to creator Kevin Williamson and series star Kevin Bacon. The controversial show, which features Bacon as a serial killer, features many gruesome acts. Williamson said the violence on the show is just part of the game, noting he and his writing room staff were traumatized by the Sandy Hook murders. Williamson points out his staff doesn’t sit around all day and figure out ways to murder people. Williamson said his show wad meant to be “a work of fiction”, and the biggest problem was the regular six-act structure of television.

– Next up was American Idol, and you wonder what was the biggest battle at the panel: between new judges Nicki Manaj and Mariah Carey or Idol producers and the critics? Either way, it was an interesting panel, which also featured the other new judge (Keith Urban) and returning judge Randy Jackson. Idol executive producer Nigel Lythoe said the feud between Manaj and Carey was genuine, answering charges from critics the arguments were staged. Reality executive Mike Darnell denied there was any orchestration of the Manaj-Carey dustup.

But keep this is mind: the feud – and the tape that was leaked to TMZ – has gotten people talking about Idol again – even President Obama chimed in, when he told a local radio show the two should work out their differences. That’s big. But will people tune out? Wednesday night’s season premiere was down 19 percent from last year in adults 18-49 and failed to match the total viewer count NCIS earned the night before. So far, viewers aren’t impressed with the Idol Circus. The only person missing is ringmaster Ned Locke – and if he were alive, he would find it easier to deal with Bozo and Cooky.

– If you watch Fox’s coverage of MLB and the NFL, then you know the network has a Tuesday night comedy block (admit it, you know – you seen the promos at least 45 million times.) Well, it wouldn’t be a TCA press tour without Fox promoting the overhyped block. The stars of one of those sitcoms (Mindy Kaling of The Mindy Project) briefly talked about the recent behind-the-scenes changes at her show, including the demotion of series regular Anna Camp and the promotion of Ike Barinholtz to series regular due to the increased workplace focus. Also gone (for now) is Mindy’s boyfriend Scrappy-Doo (thank God.)

Despite all the promotion, Fox’s Tuesday night sitcom lineup isn’t registering in the ratings. Of all the four shows, only Raising Hope has shown growth creatively, if not in the ratings. In fact, Hope is one season away from syndication riches, an achievement well deserved. As for the others? Ben & Kate sucks, New Girl is overrated (and America agrees with me – ratings are down by half this year) and Mindy is a trainwreck. The media community may give these three the benefit of the doubt, but yours truly won’t.

– And the rest… Fox unveiled its new Animation Domination HD Saturday night block, which is now set to begin on July 27 at 10 p.m. Central Time. Initial offerings include Axe Cop and High School USA. Each show consists of six 15-minute episodes, similar to some of Adult Swim’s offerings. Nick Weidenfeld, who heads the initiative, was Adult Swim’s head of development for eight years… Remember the In Living Color revival in development? Forget it, its officially dead. Fox signed a development deal with M. Night Shyanalan for a new series, Wayward Pines.