It’s a whole new ballgame for Fox Entertainment since 20th TV and 21st Century Fox were absorbed by Disney, making Fox an indie without a studio partner.
Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier touted the appeal of being a slimmed-down network at the Television Critics Association summer press tour last week at the Beverly Hilton.
“Our independence allows us to question every assumption about what it means to be a broadcast network. But rest assured, the Fox evolution is under way,” Collier said. “We’re vying with the best in the business for writers and creative partners and we’re committed to making sure they know what Fox is building and what kind of home it will be.”
Collier was known to be a creative-friendly exec when he ran AMC, overseeing groundbreaking shows like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” so his promise carries much weight.
Anticipation was high for Fox’s panel on “BH90210.” The series premiered last Wednesday night, and in the morning, executive producers Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler as well as stars and EPSs Gabrielle Carteris, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Brian Austin Green, Tori Spelling, and Ian Ziering were on hand to answer questions about it.
The actors play fictionalized versions of themselves who went their separate ways after the original series ended in 2000 after a decade-long run.
While the six-episode reboot is being billed as an event series, the door is clearly being left open for more of the grown-up lives of Andrea, Brenda, Kelly, David, Donna and Steve.
“We would love to continue to work together,” said Spelling, who plays Donna Martin. “It’s been such an amazing experience. I liken it to high school when you think, ‘Oh you never get a chance to do a do-over and there are things that you know now that you didn’t know then that you would’ve done differently’– and we get that opportunity. We have so many stories to tell that this could keep going season after season so we hope it does.”
Original cast member Luke Perry, who passed away in March, had not signed on to join his fellow 90210 residents in the reboot due to his commitment on the CW’s “Riverdale.” He was reportedly supportive of the new version and there was even discussion about him taking on a guest-starring role.
Doherty said Perry’s untimely death played a significant role in her decision to return. “I felt like it was a great opportunity to honor him,” she said. “I’m glad I made that decision because I can sit up here with these people that I respect. We went on this amazing journey where we got to heal through losing somebody who means the world to all of us.”
“Prodigal Son” (September 23) incorporates creepy serial killer shades of “The Silence of the Lambs” but is also a family drama – and a procedural. Michael Sheen stars as Dr. Martin Whitly, Tom Payne as his son Malcolm Bright and the cast is rounded out with Bellamy Young, Lou Diamond Phillips, Keiko Agena, Frank Harts, Halston Sage and Aurora Perrineau.
Executive producers Sam Sklaver and Chris Fedak said the concept evolved from a discussion about dads and what would be the worst thing a father could be – a serial killer.
“It started with a conversation about how our parents affected us,” Fedak said. “’Prodigal Son’ is about the drama, the family. We’ll have crimes and mysteries but the fun part is getting into the emotions of the characters.”
Sheehan appeared via satellite with Young for the panel and said there was no shortage of source material for him to research the role. “The most useful thing is I was working on a script on the Green River Killer, and looking into the psychology of that killer,” said. Sheen, who is well known for his roles on “Masters of Sex,” “Frost/Nixon,” and “Midnight in Paris.” “It’s useful in giving me a broad background in personality traits and how a doctor can be loved, respected and admired and yet be doing terrible things.”
“His kids didn’t know him as a killer until he was unmasked,” said EP Sarah Schechter.
“They have to re-examine their relationship with him.”
Another upcoming drama has already provoked some controversy because of its subject matter. “Almost Family” (October 2) is from executive producers Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights,” “Parenthood”) and Annie Weisman.
It centers on a fertility doctor played by Timothy Hutton who impregnates a number of women with his own sperm at his clinic, unbeknownst to them. Years later, his biological children find out they have many other siblings. The show focuses on three women in particular who discover they have sisters.
“It’s ultimately about identity and family and asking what is a family,” Katims said. “What is so charming and beautiful is three women discovering their sisters and exploring what it means to be sisters. Doesn’t make you automatically connected? They are discovering this as adults while they are still figuring out their own lives. It’s an unconventional family story in a way we haven’t seen it before in these times with 23 and me and so many people discovering their families were not who they thought – and how they deal with it.”
Weisman added a caveat for those who may be squeamish about the subject matter. “We tell the story of a complex man revealed to have done troubling things,” she said. “It’s a big theme. He couldn’t behave this way now because of the scrutiny but we get to tell the story over time and take very seriously those who didn’t consent to this behavior. It’s important to feel empathy and understanding for them.”
The scene shifted to sports – a mainstay of Fox programming – for a panel on rallying fans for upcoming seasons and post-seasons. Participants included Fox NFL kickoff host Charissa Thompson, college football studio analyst Reggie Bush, WWE’s Charlotte Flair, lead college football game analyst Joel Klatt and Major League Baseball postseason and World Series studio host and NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt.
Burkhardt was ribbed about possibly becoming Alex Rodriguez’ best man at his upcoming wedding to Jennifer Lopez, which he downplayed, but spoke glowingly of his booth-mates. “They’re yelling at the TV more than anyone,” Burkhardt said about working with his fellow broadcasters. “I’m essentially working with fans with 1200 home runs.”
Thompson fielded a sexist question– from a woman– about her credentials of being a host since she had not been a professional ballplayer, unlike some of the other people on stage. “You wouldn’t ask me that if I were a man,” she said. “I’ve been an entertainment reporter and you don’t have to be an actress to cover the industry.”
Other panelists weighed in and Bush, a former USC star running back (who returned his Heisman trophy in a scandal involving the program) said he was constantly studying and learning more about the evolution of the game he had played. The discussion was summed up by former University of Colorado quarterback Klatt. “You don’t have to have a background in the sport,” said the analyst for “Big Noon Saturday.” “But you have to be a fan, and to love the game.”