The entertainment chairman of Fox said growing concern over violence in television should be part of a much broader, societal discussion and that people are too quick to look for a “scapegoat” when searching for answers to tragedies like the one that occurred last month in Connecticut.
“I am happy to be part of any dialogue or study or discussion but this is a broader societal conversation of a complex nature,” Kevin Reilly told reporters and critics Tuesday in Pasadena, CA. “We all like a scapegoat, or want 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.”
Already dogged by questions over the timing and appropriateness of The Following – a new drama bowing Jan. 21 that stars James Purefoy as a serial killer – Reilly was asked whether the TV industry would ever take a long, hard look at its violent content, especially when shows like Criminal Minds on CBS continue to do so well. “We are constantly monitoring cultural shifts,” he said. “[We program] things that reflect society and at times we try to drive it. It comes with responsibility.
“We take everything we put on the air with the utmost responsibility,” he continued. “We are not only trying to get hits, but since the early days of TV we are trying to find that line … We take our FCC license very seriously. And as a parent in this society, of course these things are on my mind. But the conversation is a complex and broad one.”
He did acknowledge that America still wants shows that offer “escapism.” He told a story of a survey that were taken regarding the impact of NYPD Blue back in 1993 and how a “sweet lady ” revealed how much she loved the show. “There is clearly an appetite,” Reilly said. “I can say that for a fact. Look at the success [of violent content] not only on TV but in box office.”
What set NYPD Blue apart, however, was its occasional semi-nude scenes (remember seeing Dennis Franz’ butt?). To that end, Reilly admitted the Americans can be a little schizophrenic about what they like and don’t like on TV. “We have puritan roots. Viewers are more tolerant of issues of violence than of sexuality. In Europe, which has broader programming, the shows are not only more violent but more provocative. It’s part of human nature. You have to be responsible with it and make it balanced.”
Reilly then addressed the challenges faced by all the broadcast nets right now – having to compete in an “ecosystem of TV that is as vibrant” as it ever has been. “There are more choices, more breadth of quality. The challenge in this day is competing with TV. We have always competed against broadcast networks. Now there are so many other access points. It’s a goal of mine to get Fox back in Fox. We were on the edge of what was bold, and I still want to be there. We are competing not with Criminal Minds but every show on cable.”