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Dana Walden has spent the better part of the last four months defending Fox’s two-year-old decision to cancel American Idol, and her turn Tuesday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour proved no exception.
The Fox TV Group chairman kicked off her network’s day with an announcement about new singing competition The Four, which she coyly noted would be less about “celebrity panels” than it would be about emerging musical talent. But if her plan was to have the conversation remain on the net’s new singing competition swing, rather than the one that came before it, it backfired.
Within minutes of opening up the forum to questions, a reporter grabbed the mic and suggested that Fox looked like it was simply “trying to sabotage American Idol” with The Four. “Really?” Walden deadpanned to big laughs, before revealing that she had no intention of airing the fresh format opposite ABC’s Idol or NBC’s The Voice because she wanted to see it have a shot at succeeding — rather than risk having it crushed by the competition.
When Walden, along with the net’s new reality chief Rob Wade, wasn’t fielding questions about the specifics of the new entry, which Wade described as “Game of Thrones with better singing and less nudity,” she was forced, once again, to explain how it was that Fox lost Idol to ABC. As she did during a Fox upfront press call, the exec walked reporters through the back-and-forth that she and partner Gary Newman had with FremantleMedia, which ultimately ended with the series’ cancelation.
Now, Walden suggested, it was on ABC to figure out how to move forward with a show that proved a costly headache on her air — and on Fremantle to figure out how to continue with the famed format without making the kind of wholesale changes that it was looking to avoid on Fox’s air. When Walden was pressed about who was making a mistake — Fox for killing the show or ABC for reviving it — she responded quickly and to laughter: “ABC.”
When not discussing The Four or Idol, Walden’s time on stage (where she was also joined by entertainment president David Madden) was largely spent dissecting the current status of the network and the studio’s various drama franchises — both current and past.
About That X-Files Diversity Problem…
When Chris Carter’s The X-Files returns for its latest revival in 2018, it will be with an overwhelmingly male staff behind the scenes — a fact that did not sit well with star Gillian Anderson, who tweeted her displeasure with the stat in June. Walden approached that subject carefully. “I don’t want to make any excuses for anyone,” she said, before getting into the very specific history of the franchise — one that was populated, almost exclusively, by male writers and directors in the 1990s. The revived version of the show just happens to be populating from the same pool. “Chris has assigned two women to two of the 10 episodes, and we do have two female directors,” Walden explained, adding that half of of the helmers this time around aren’t white men. “I think Chris is making moves in the right direction.” (As for the series’ narrative, Madden confirmed that it would consist of two mythology episodes — the premiere and the finale — with eight stand-alone episodes in between.)
24 Will Likely Live Again (With a Much Different Set Up)
The swift demise of 24: Legacy is not something Walden or Madden seemed too cut up about. “We’re really exploring what the future might be,” said Walden, stressing that the 24 brand is fluid. “Perhaps it will live in a more anthological story franchise … our goal was just to do something to extend the life of the franchise.” Fox has already discussed the next possible iteration with executive producers Howard Gordon and Brian Grazer, with Walden saying “they have a really exciting idea” in its very early stages. Returning to the show’s homeland security themes, however, is off the table for now. “The next version of 24 will not be CTU,” said Madden, referring to the show’s fictional counter-terrorism organization. “We want to take that same kind of ticking clock and apply it to something else.” That something else, Walden joked, was not going to be too much of a stretch, like science-fiction, but she copped afterwards to a small group of reporters that viewers were “sick” of seeing current events translated to drama. (As for other franchises, the exec is “open” to more Prison Break, should there be an interesting angle, and the possibility of more Wayward Pines is still on the table.)
Similarities Between The Orville and Star Trek Are a “Compliment”
Walden seemed somewhat caught off-guard by a question about the similarities between Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville and its predecessor Star Trek, which can be glaring at times. When a reporter wondered aloud if Walden had concerns about the owner of the latter taking legal action, she suggested she was not — after she joked that she was open to someone in the audience answering the question for her, that is. “We vet things, it’s not like we’re flying by the seat of our pants,” Walden then added, before insisting that MacFarlane had simply intended to pay homage to Star Trek. What’s more, she argued, most shows have some resemblance or DNA strains of shows that came before them, and it isn’t “anything other than a compliment.”
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