Is Fox's Greg Kinnear Drama 'Rake' Too Dark for Broadcast Viewers?

Warwick Saint/FOX

Premieres: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. (Fox)
Stars: Greg Kinnear, Miranda Otto, John Ortiz, Necar Zadegan, Tara Summers, Bojana Novakovic

Based on the Australian drama of the same name, Rake follows the comedic and chaotic life of criminal defense lawyer Keegan Deane (Kinnear).

Rake, in which Greg Kinnear plays a brilliant lawyer who is selfish and irresponsible in his personal life, may be a tough sell to network audiences weaned on broad comedies and soapy thrillers. But executive producers Peter Tolan, Michael Wimer and Peter Duncan (who created the original hit Australian TV version from which Fox's Rake is adapted) say they've been assured by Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly that an antihero character drama can work on his network.

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Reilly, said Wimer, Tolin's former agent and partner in Fedora Entertainment, believes "that you don't need to be blowing things up every five minutes."  (Except, presumably, when it comes to the network's upcoming 24 miniseries Live Another Day.)

Tolin, who had an infamously bad broadcast experience when he was producing ABC's The Job with frequent collaborator Denis Leary, added: "The fact that the show is extremely well-written and well-acted has to count for something. If it doesn't, I guess we're in the business of just throwing stuff at the wall."

Indeed, Reilly took the stage immediately following the Rake panel at the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena Monday morning and declared that he was killing pilot season at the network. "We believe that there is a better, more talent-friendly, consistent way to do this," said Reilly.

Rake's 13-episode season mirrors that of Fox's The Following, which premieres its second season Sunday, Jan. 19 after the NFC Championship game, and also features a film actor (Kevin Bacon) willing to commit to a broadcast drama with fewer episodes than the still standard 22.

But it is the complicated unlikable quality of Kinnear's character, Keegan Deane, an inveterate gambler whose debts lead to episodic pummelings, which attracted the film actor to the project.

"There are a lot of episodes where he learns nothing and makes sizable mistakes," said Kinnear. "He isn't built like a typical television protagonist. That was what appealed to me."

Duncan asserted that the character will grow emotionally throughout the show's first-season run. "There's a journey for this character that will get increasingly broad and entertaining," he said.

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And Tolan added that while Kinnear "makes being a f--- up charming and acceptable," he knew he couldn't let the character become too execrable, a direction he and Leary unabashedly went toward with Rescue Me. "You can't push that too far," admitted Tolan. "We've been a little more careful than we were on Rescue Me to protect this character."

Tolan has been very outspoken about his experience at ABC -- the maddening notes process, the lack of marketing support and the soul-killing cycle of attempting to conform to the solipsistic expectations of network executives. So he was naturally asked why he agreed to get in bed with another broadcast network. The showrunner is known for outrageous press tour antics. (Last year, he pulled his pants down and showed the roomful of media reporters his underwear.) And this time, he offered that he was already "a little annoyed" at Fox because "about a month ago" he got "an email from Fox publicity about what to talk about and what not to talk about."

He was so upset, he said, that he has been chronicling the slings and arrows in his "journal." He proceeded to remove said journal from his jacket pocket and read from it:

"Sept. 16: first day of shooting for Rake, Kinnear showed up drunk with a hooker named Tammy on his arm, claiming it was part of his process. After first shot, he demanded we give Tammy a producer credit. Sept. 20: call from Kevin Reilly, feels Rake will be a better fit on Fox if one of our main characters has no head. No idea how to respond but cut most of [costar] John Ortiz lines and hope that this will address at least the spirit of the request. Oct. 1: Peter Duncan still speaking Australian, can't understand a f---ing word. Oct. 11: Tammy no longer with us, got an overall at Twentieth, sold her first pitch to ABC, an hour called Maniacal Murdering Whores. Oct. 25: why is Lena Dunham naked all the time on Girls? Dec. 10: Really ticked off. Apparently the people at Fox publicity think I'm a child. They sent an email about the TCAs next month which included, get this, a list of things not to be discussed. Top of the list, no surprise, Dads."