Dana Walden didn’t waste a single second before addressing what was on everyone’s minds during Fox’s day at the TCA summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton hotel. It was to be the last time in that venue the Fox Television Group chairwoman and chief executive, along with Gary Newman, would represent the company under current 21st Century Fox ownership before Disney completes acquisition and takes the reins.
“We are informally calling it ‘New Fox,’ and it will be the only network to operate with complete independence,” said Walden, who noted that will free the network from favoring programs created by a studio owned by its corporate parent over projects from outside studios like Warner Bros., Sony, Lionsgate and MGM — none of whom are aligned with a major television network.
“We want to be their first choice at the big four networks,” she said.
Walden reflected on her four years running the network with Newman, saying they’ve been blown away by being part of an organization filled with brilliant and passionate executives.
She announced several new programs coming down the pipeline for the 2018-2019 season, including “Mental Samurai,” a competition series billed as an obstacle course of the mind hosted by actor Rob Lowe and a new game show called “Spin the Wheel,” executive produced by Justin Timberlake and hosted by Dax Shepard.
But it was a new music competition series that drew the most attention — with a “secret” panel for “The Masked Singer” with all the key players — that had not been previously announced. Nick Cannon will host the series, and the panelists are Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Nicole Scherzinger and Ken Jeong, who got involved because the original Korean version is his mother’s favorite show.
The Korean show is a massive hit in Asia and obviously all those involved in the U.S. version want to replicate its success on the network that had an extremely long and very successful run with “American Idol.”
The performers are celebrities — but no one including the panel knows who they are because they are cloaked in elaborate costumes.
“This show’s a comedy show as well — the true essence of variety,” Cannon promised about the program, which bows in January 2019.
Here are some of the other programming highlights presented during Fox’s day at TCA:
The panel on “9-1-1” got very real when co-star Aisha Hinds revealed a harrowing story that as an innocent bystander, she had been shot in an incident in Buffalo, New York, when she was 16 years old. “I lost a kidney, and I’m just grateful to be here thanks to the fast response from first responders after people called 911.”
Jennifer Love Hewitt and Peter Krause lead the cast on the drama, which premiered in January and has been renewed for a second season that will begin in September. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear, it uses real incidents as the basis for the cases tackled by dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics and cops.
“There is lots of interaction between the LAFD and our show,” said Minear. “We revere those people and want to do right by them.”
Kelsey Grammer toplines “Proven Innocent,” a drama inspired by real cases of people wrongful convicted of crimes and the battle to exonerate them.
“There’s an incredible number of wrongful convictions, so there is an incredible pool from which to draw,” said executive producer Danny Strong. “We’re able to explore other issues including capital punishment, racial discrimination and bail. Plus, if this person is innocent, someone else did it. The police won’t help because the person is in jail. It makes for exciting drama.”
“For everyone found innocent, someone got away with murder,” noted Grammer, who said he attends bail hearings in another state for two people convicted (rightfully) of murdering his sister.
“These stories are unbelievably compelling,” said creator David Elliot. “We get to begin the dialogue from a point everyone agrees on — no one wants to kill innocent people — and how to keep it from happening again. Journalists play a big role in this.”
“Last Man Standing” moves over to Fox for its seventh season after ABC canceled the Tim Allen starrer in 2017.
“I worked at ABC for years and I don’t believe it was a political situation but a financial situation,” Allen said of the network switch-up, and noted that he thought the cancellation was handled poorly. One producer chimed in that the cast and crew were all “heartbroken.”
Although his character’s traditional values often clash with those of his family, the showrunners promised they won’t be talking about President Trump. They were also asked about similarities to the recently canceled “Roseanne.”
“The only similarity to ‘Roseanne’ is that it’s a family show and the main character is conservative,” said executive producer and showrunner Kevin Abbott.
(And in some casting news that broke several days after the panel, Molly McCook will replace Molly Ephraim as one of Tim Allen’s daughters, Mandy Baxter.)
“The Cool Kids” takes a comedic concept from Charlie Day and puts it in the hands of lead actors David Alan Grier, Vicki Lawrence, Martin Mull and Leslie Jordan. Three of the four live contentedly in a retirement community, until a newcomer enters the picture and rocks their world.
Day said he grew up loving “The Golden Girls” and older family members and wondered why no one was doing a show about older people who still have plenty of life to live. He said an inspiration was writing the four parents on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” in which he also stars.
“We all have grandparents or parents, so it didn’t seem like an outrageous place to write a show from,” said Day, who pens the sitcom with Paul Fruchbom — and a writers room of people from ages 25-50. He also said he was very grateful the network didn’t force him to put in what he called “a dumb younger character.”