One of Fox’s most talked-about shows in the coming season is sure to be “Shots Fired.” The midseason event series takes on the vexing problem of racially charged police shootings.
The topic could not be more timely after a string of horrifying incidents, from last month’s shooting in Minnesota documented in real time by a woman on Facebook Live to the slayings of five white law enforcement officers in Dallas by a sniper.
“Shots Fired” was set in motion after the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Fox Television Group chairman-CEO Dana Walden was struck by the issues and emotions unleashed after the Ferguson killing. She asked Imagine TV chief Brian Grazer to develop a project that dealt squarely with the culturally divisive topic for which there are no easy answers.
Grazer turned to Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood, African-American writer-directors whose pilot script earned the Imagine TV/20th Century Fox TV project a straight-to-series order.
“Shots Fired” revolves around the fallout in a small North Carolina town from two police shootings, one by a white cop and one by a black cop. Sanaa Lathan stars as a special prosecutor appointed by the Justice Department to investigate both cases.
The string of police-involved deaths of African-American men have occurred in recent months ensures that “Shots Fired” will command attention when it premieres next spring. Fox is giving it a prime showcase in the Wednesday 8 p.m. time slot paired with its smash hit “Empire.”
The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the cultural tension surrounding police shootings has “heightened my commitment to that show,” Walden told Variety on Monday during Fox’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at the Beverly Hilton.
Walden praised Prince-Bythewood and Bythewood as “incredible storytellers” who brought their own history and experiences to the show. Hearing from the couple drove home the importance of material to Walden.
“They talked about how their son was about to get his driver’s license and the conversations they had to have with him about how to act if he’s pulled over by the police,” Walden said. “I have a 16-year-old daughter who’s getting her license. What struck me so deeply was the difference in the conversations that parents have in the same country. It felt powerful and it felt like this is a story that needs to be told.”
Walden’s hope is that “Shots Fired” will be a compelling dramatic thriller that can also help drive a larger cultural conversation. Episodes of the show have been screened for members of various organizations, including the National Association of Black Journalists, which gave it standing ovation. (Because it is a midseason debut, “Shots Fired” will be unveiled to critics at the January TCA tour).
Lathan, Walden added, is “amazing” in a difficult role. The series also stars Helen Hunt, Richard Dreyfuss, Stephen Moyer, Stephen James, Aisha Hands and Tristan Wilds.
“It’s a special show,” Walden said. “Hopefully it will be evocative of what’s going on in the country in a way that increases conversations and communication. We hope that a big audience will appreciate something that feels very timely and relevant.”