“24” without Kiefer Sutherland? It could happen.
A pitch for another limited-series installment of the “24” franchise on Fox envisions a storyline that would revolve around supporting characters and not feature Sutherland’s intrepid covert op Jack Bauer.
The talk of more “24” came up Saturday during the exec Q&A session at Fox’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena. The session marked the TCA debut for Gary Newman and Dana Walden, the longtime 20th Century Fox TV chiefs who took on oversight of Fox Broadcasting in July amid a shakeup at the network.
Newman and Walden cautioned that there is no deal and no plans are set in stone for more “24.” But a Bauer-free pitch for a new installment — following on the 12-episode limited series “24: Live Another Day” that aired on Fox this past summer — came recently from series stewards Howard Gordon, Evan Katz, Manny Coto and Imagine’s Brian Grazer. It’s tentatively targeted for 2016.
“We have great characters and that great creative team,” Walden said. She noted that it would be a one-time effort to experiment with highlighting supporting players, and she assured the audience that the Jack Bauer character would remain the center of the show over the long haul. Sutherland is aware of the possibility and supportive, she added.
“The X-Files” is another vintage Fox property that is being eyed for a limited series reboot. Walden emphasized that outreach to series creator Chris Carter and stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny has just barely started, and there’s nothing close to a deal coming together yet. But the success of the “24” revival has them looking more deeply in the vault. Newman joked that he saw speculation about a “Prison Break” revival that was news to him but a welcome idea.
“We would bring ‘Prison Break’ back in a heartbeat,” Newman said.
During the wide-ranging Q&A, Walden and Newman emphasized their focus on rebuilding the Fox brand in the minds of viewers. After tough sledding in the previous two seasons, the network has fielded two solid hits in dramas “Gotham” and “Empire” this season, which have helped guide their thinking about the types of shows that network should strive for.
Newman said Fox’s image should be “defined by showmanship” that is “broad and inclusive.”
The duo aim to make the network “a place where things feel big and bold, risky and different. When people come to sample a new show on Fox, it should be something that feels compelling, original and has integrity. It’s really the same sorts of things we considered at the studio.”
Walden and Newman were candid in talking about how happy they are to be able to exert a new level of control over the programming that lands on Fox. For years on the studio side, they sweated over delivering programs to the network and then handed off to a different team to schedule and market.
Walden cited the success of the promo campaign that launched “Empire” as an example of how tighter coordination between the network and studio made for a better overall result. As Walden put it, they’re now in a position to “meaningfully control our own destinies.”
The pair’s depth of experience on the studio side will help them manage the development process better as well, Walden asserted. Last week the network gave an early pilot greenlight to “Minority Report,” an elaborate futuristic drama that will require special effects and other complex touches. The early pickup gives the Amblin TV team plenty of time to work on the production, and it allowed them to land a top-flight director in Mark Mylod.
“We’re producers at heart,” Walden said. “We know that the scope of that project is going to require a lot of prep.”
In the big picture, the dual roles as network and studio chiefs is a juggling act that requires them to be as strategic about what will work on Fox as they have long been about placing projects at the optimum networks. “We’re trying to make sure the right projects from the studio end up at the network,” Walden said, while remaining “open to outside studios.”
To that end, two of the three early series renewals that Walden and Newman announced at the top of the sesh went to outside shops: Warner Bros. TV (“Gotham”) and Universal TV (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”).
On the unscripted front, the pair reiterated that the network’s focus would shift to aspirational and lighter fare. “MasterChef” and “American Idol” are “tonally the types of (unscripted) shows we want to populate our network,” Walden said. The quick flame-out in the fall of the ambitious “Utopia” effort was “an admirable effort, but it just didn’t work out,” Newman said. (On Friday Fox made an exec change in its alternative department, with ABC alum Corie Henson replacing Simon Andreae, who championed “Utopia.”)
The pair gave a final-season shout out to “Glee,” which is wrapping its six-season run this year. ” ‘Glee’ is probably one of the most important shows and one of the most amazing experiences that either one of us has had running the studio,” Newman said. “It’s rare you find a show that explodes the way ‘Glee’ did and so impacts the culture.”
Among other programming tidbits from the session:
- Contract talks are under way with Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz for an 11th season of “Bones.” “Nothing would make us happier than to do another year,” Newman said.
- Fox offered to do more episodes of “Red Band Society” if ABC Studios could have re-engineered it for a lower budget but the studio passed. “The show felt soulful, it felt truthful and felt like it had integrity … it just didn’t resonate with the audience in the way we thought it would,” Newman said.
- Fox has had discussions recently with Simon Cowell about possibility doing another project, but no specifics were divulged.
- Walden said she has high hopes that a new storyline about to debut on comedy “The Mindy Project” will help draw a bigger crowd. The show is “creatively in a good place,” but the focus is on “building a little bit of a greater audience.”