This is probably the worst time in years to launch an ultra-violent TV show.
But Fox is moving forward with its serial killer thriller The Following this month, about an Edgar Allen Poe-obsessed mastermind who convinces his cult-like followers to commit acts of extreme violence. Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly, showrunner Kevin Williamson (The Vampire Diaries) and the cast faced TV critics at the semi-annual press tour in Pasadena on Tuesday and had to answer some tough questions about the appropriateness of the show in the wake of what was arguably the most tragic domestic killing spree in our nation’s history.
“Not to be defensive about it, but we are putting on an excellent thriller,” Reilly said. “We are not glorifying a killer.”
The executive added that the show adheres to broadcast standards and claimed there have been other programs that have been more violent in the past. “I didn’t call Standards and say, ‘Buckle up, we are pushing boundaries,’” he said. “It feels in more intense than it is … when you’re doing a thriller, you have to compete on this level of intensity.”
When asked about the impact of media violence in the wake of Sandy Hook, Williamson said, “We all worry about it.”
“Who wasn’t affected by Sandy Hook?” he asked. “I’m still disturbed when I think of [last summer’s theater shooting in Aurora, CO]. We sat in the writers room after that happened and we’re all traumatized by it … it’s just so real.”
Williamson was steadfast in his commitment to the show (“it’s meant to be fiction … I’m just a storyteller”), yet acknowledged a link between violent thinking and the media – at least, in reverse. He notes that the 1999 Columbine school shootings was one of the inspirations for The Following, along with fictional sources like The Silence of the Lambs. “I know what happens in the real world affects me,” he said. “When I take pen to paper, there is a reaction to it and it sort of find its way into what I do.”
The Following, which debuts Monday, Jan. 21, is crucial for Fox. The network had a tough fall and needs a new hit drama. NBC could be in a similarly tricky position when pitching its upcoming serial killer project Hannibal, which is expected to premiere later this season, but the network notably hasn’t announced a date yet.