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Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly took a barrage of incoming fire from reporters gathered for the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday about the level of violence in the upcoming Kevin Williamson thriller The Following. But Reilly stood his ground, noting that broadcast networks are not only beholden to FCC regulations but also have their own rigorous standards and practices departments that vet everything that makes it to air.
“This show adheres to our broadcast standards,” he said. “It’s intense because of the psychological nature of it. There have been more violent shows on television and nobody noticed or cared because they were insignificant, bad shows.”
Reilly declined to draw a direct link between depictions of violence in television, movies and video games and the rash of recent shootings, including the Dec. 14 Newtown. Conn., elementary school massacre that has spurred a nationwide dialog about gun control and pervasive violence in the entertainment industry.
“I think it trivializes it to link it to television or broadcast television specifically,” he said. “As a parent, as a participant in society who worries about the safety of my family, of course these things are on my mind. I have a lot of sleepless nights. I think the conversation is an important one and should happen in the broadest possible way.”
The Following stars Kevin Bacon as a troubled FBI agent tracking a murderous cult amassed by James Purefoy’s jailed serial killer. Williamson admitted that real-life tragedies including Columbine and especially the 1990 murders of five students in Gainesville, Fla., inspired some aspects of The Following. But both Williamson and Reilly disputed claims that such content is a glorification of a violent culture.
“We’re not glorifying serial killers,” said Reilly. “Clearly, there is an appetite. Let’s just say that for a fact. People like these things. That is the business we’re in, providing things that people like.”
But Reilly admitted that the content on cable — especially AMC’s gory zombie drama The Walking Dead (the top-rated series on cable TV that pulled in 10.5 million viewers for its mid-season finale last December), which is not beholden to the same content standards as broadcast — has motivated the network to push storytelling limits.
“Before there was cable, Fox was cable,” he said. “We were the edge of what was bold, and we still want to be there. We’re not competing with just Criminal Minds, we’re competing with every show on cable, and if you notice, the top show on cable last year was Walking Dead.”
Of course, that does not mean that everything the network puts on will be a white-knuckle ride with a massive body count.
But Reilly added: “We must match the intensity. Otherwise, we’re going to be a pale comparison, and we’re not going to entertain the audience.”
Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com; Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie
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