BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Spring will be the new fall in this strike-struck year of television, a forecast made clear in Monday morning comments from Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Co. Acknowledging that because of the writers strike - which started last November and ended in February - Fox will have only two new shows debuting this fall, Reilly said that the network will have a lot of new shows premiering in January by default.
But that’s good, really, the executive went on to explain, because the strike and its consequences are just forcing Fox to change and adapt in ways that an evolving media marketplace and shifting viewer habits would have forced on the networks anyway.
“We are formally splitting into two pilot seasons. It’s just the next step toward year-round television, which is where the industry is heading,” Reilly said.
Talking about everything from the proliferation of popular series that cable networks are broadcasting in what were formerly downtimes of the TV year, to Web sites such as Hulu.com (a joint venture by NBC and Fox that offers episodes of popular shows online), Reilly described the anxiety swirling through the television industry.
“There’s this doomsday scenario where digital content is the poison invading the system,” he said, admitting that this was a mindset he himself fell into - for a while. But all those assumptions, that online streaming would cannibalize broadcast consumption, that DVRs would have everybody zapping through commercials, they’re not panning out.
“This is the age of anxiety, but Hollywood is very adaptable,” Reilly said.
Two newsy tidbits came out during an afternoon panel featuring producers of Fox’s animation lineup.
1. Work on a follow-up to “Family Guy’s” most-successful-episode-ever spoof of “Star Wars” (an hourlong retelling of the original “Star Wars” movie, recast with the “Family Guy” characters) is, according to creator Seth MacFarlane, “basically done.” It’s - can you guess? - a spoof of “The Empire Strikes Back” and will be shipping off to wherever the show is animated sometime in the next week. No word yet on when it will air, but soon, MacFarlane promised.
2. Seth Rogen has written an episode of “The Simpsons.” Longtime producer Al Jean revealed that the episode has Comic Book Guy creating a superhero whose movie version is played by a slimmed-down, buffed-up Homer, thanks to his celebrity trainer, who is played by - yes - Seth Rogen.
Jon Voight was surrounded by a throng of reporters at the Beverly Hilton on Monday afternoon. He was ostensibly there to talk about joining Kiefer Sutherland and company for the new season of “24.” But I will give you two guesses as to what everybody was asking him about instead.
That’s right, two little 5-pound bundles of tabloid-celebrity joy a continent and ocean away. The birth of twins, a boy and a girl, to superstar parents Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie was all anybody wanted to talk about with Voight, famous father to famous daughter Angelina. Of course, since he is also the famously estranged father to Jolie, he didn’t know much more than anyone else who has been inundated with the news of the babies’ Saturday birth.
“It’s the most exciting thing to have new souls coming into the world,” Voight said. “My heart is with them.”
So has he seen pictures of his newest grandchildren?
“No, not yet.”
Has he spoken with Angelina?
“No, not yet.”
Then how did he learn of the twins’ arrival?
“I can’t really say. I just had a little hint.”
He went on to demonstrate that he did, at least, know the babies’ names, by saying first Knox Leon and then, after a long moment’s hesitation, “Vivienne, um, Marcheline. I think they’re beautiful names.”
So will he find time during his hectic 24 shooting schedule to fly over and meet his grandchildren?
“If I’m asked, I’ll find a way.”
Thanks to the breakthrough success of shows such as “Lost” and “Heroes,” it wasn’t all that long ago that serialized television was all the rage. Over the past couple of years, while trumpeting new series at Television Critics Association events, producers talked enthusiastically about the depth of storytelling and audience connection-interaction made possible by the serialized style - in which the arc of a story runs over an entire season with each episode acting as more the chapter in a book than a stand-alone experience. They held it out as the killer-app strategy that television could apply to counter the YouTubing of viewers’ tastes and habits.
Well, flash-forward to Monday at the Beverly Hilton and Fox’s first day at this summer’s TCA conference, and guess what? Serial-style storytelling is dead and long live stand-alone episodes. The first hint of this change of tune came during the morning session with the producers and cast of “Fringe,” the new sci-fi-themed series from “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams and his “Alias” collaborators, Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci.
Responding to a question that referenced the confusion and difficulty that many people experienced in trying to watch “Lost,” Abrams recalled the time he was at a friend’s house and started watching an episode of “Alias.” “Within a few minutes I was totally lost. I found it totally impenetrable, so that gave me the chance to experience it from that direction.”
To avoid viewer confusion and frustration, “Fringe” will try to be an experiment in which there is an overarching end game, with all the embedded clues and codes fans of the serial genre love to blog about and theorize over, but also a show in which each episode is its own stand-alone experience.
“You don’t have to watch episodes one, two and three to watch episode four,” Abrams said. “It’s going to be a different sort of paradigm week to week,” he added, offering the further reassurance that “Fringe” “doesn’t require insane, absolute dedication.”
The anti-serial backlash was expressed even more explicitly during the afternoon panel with the producers and cast of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” After a questioner noted the show’s strong opening and subsequent dip in ratings during its debut season, creator Josh Friedman explained that on both macro and micro levels, it was making some second-season adjustments. “The first season was heavily serialized and this season the episodes are going to be more self-contained,” Friedman said.
When asked why, producer James Middleton snappily replied, “Because we wanted to.”