At the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour Wednesday, Fox presented several of their programs — and debuted a sense of what “new Fox,” a network left out of Disney’s 20th Century Fox acquisition, will look like. Panels included a valedictory look at “Gotham” before its final season, an omnibus presentation of several of the network’s dramas at once, a look at breakout hit “The Masked Singer” and a table read of the new Emily Spivey-created animated series “Bless the Harts.”
This is the second broadcast-network panel in two days to feature the debut of a network head whose job has been impacted by the Disney/Fox merger; following new ABC chief Karey Burke yesterday, Charlie Collier, late of AMC, took the stage. Here’s what Variety learned from him and from his shows’ panels.
A Nimbler Fox?
Fox Entertainment CEO Collier delivered an opening executive session that was long on notions about how the so-called “New Fox” — spun off from the 20th Century Fox properties, including the Fox studio, purchased by Disney — might compete in the marketplace but short on real specifics. Collier (who, in a nod to his cable past and broadcast present, was introduced by “Better Call Saul” actor Jonathan Banks dressed as a “Masked Singer” contestant), compared Fox to Hulu when it became the first streaming service to win a series Emmy or to HBO when it broke through in the late 1990s. Fox now, in his telling, is “nimble enough to fit in the corners that others can’t or simply won’t.” To that end, former Fox Entertainment president Gail Berman has been brought in to lead a “content accelerator” called SideCar, helping to seed the ground with potential hits as Fox adjusts to a world without a dedicated studio as a corporate sibling.
Ambitious Animation Plans
The only renewal announced at TCA was “The Simpsons,” which has been granted a 31st and a 32nd season. Already the longest-running series in television history, “The Simpsons” will reach 713 episodes by the end of its 32nd season. “With a two-year pickup, we showed our confidence,” said Collier, a “Simpsons” fan who noted that he’d gone to a table read during his first weeks in his job. (Though he didn’t have official news on “Family Guy,” Collier indicated that show would be returning as well.) The network is trying to cycle in new animated hit as well with a “Bless the Harts,” starring Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Jillian Bell, Ike Barinholtz and Drew Tarver. (During the table read, series creator Spivey subbed in for an absent Wiig.) The show, executive produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is a family sitcom in the tradition of “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “Bob’s Burgers,” set in Spivey’s home state of North Carolina.
As its final episode, and a 10-year time jump, draw near, “Gotham” will present several full-fledged characters from the DC Comics universe. Young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) will take on the cape and cowl of Batman, though executive producer John Stephens noted that while Mazouz will provide the face and voice of the hero, the Batsuit will be worn by a larger actor (designed as it was for a 6’4″ performer). Camren Bicondova also confirmed she’ll go from playing Selina Kyle to a “fully realized” Catwoman, but Cameron Monaghan, though, wouldn’t confirm whether his character will, as fans expect, evolve into the Joker.
Support for Jussie Smollett
Asked about “Empire” star Jussie Smollett — the alleged victim of a recent hate crime — during a “voices of drama” panel, showrunner Brett Mahoney expressed strong support for his star. “Jussie is a proud gay black man,” Mahoney said, “and I don’t know if the cowards who attacked him were trying to beat the gay, the black, or the [pride] out of him, but that’s impossible, because he’s strong.” Previously, network head Collier had said, “He’s an important and so talented member of the Fox family and our heart goes out to him. … It’s been really gratifying to see the creative community rally around him.”
“Lethal Weapon” Update
On that same drama panel — which brought together showrunners across Fox’s air — Matt Miller, the executive producer of “Lethal Weapon,” opened up about that show’s revival following the firing of Clayne Crawford and Damon Wayans’ later announcement that he was leaving the show, too. Miller said that Wayans’ health issues through the shoot prompted the show’s team to ask him “What do you need?” “He was really sick and it was a cry for help,” Miller added, noting that the show worked on alleviating Wayans’ schedule and that since then, “it was an absolute delight making the show…a charmed experience” and that Wayans has worked well with newly introduced co-lead Seann William Scott. But even charmed experiences aren’t meant to last forever: Miller drew laughs when he acknowledged the show isn’t meant to run 10 seasons. “If we could do a few more delightful seasons of television, that would be perfectly fine with me.”