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TCA's Winter Press Tour – Day 1
January 5, 2018  | By Roger Catlin
 

PASADENA, CA -- There was a bit of excitement as the TV Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour began Thursday — and not just because so many out of town reporters managed to get to Pasadena before the wintery bomb cyclone hit the Northeast.

Normally, the biannual confab begins slowly, with a far-flung cable operation or streaming service startup doing panels. This year, it began abruptly with one of the big four broadcasters, Fox, which faced a raft of questions about the proposed merger with Disney announced last month.

So Gary Newman (top), chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, began by addressing “the elephant in the room — or in our case, the mouse."

He illustrated it with a picture of he and co-CEO Dana Walden (top) posing with Mickey Mouse in Disneyland.

But there were no immediate plans for affixing Bart Simpson with mouse ears, or of any possible crossover of Once Upon a Time with, say, The Exorcist.

Instead, Newman tried to calm growing questions by saying that if the deal is approved in 12 to 18 months, Disney will acquire the 21st Century Fox Television studio, which has produced shows from M*A*S*H and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Glee and 24 and several they’ve sold to competing networks — including Modern Family to ABC, Life in Pieces on CBS and This Is Us to NBC.

The Fox broadcast network will combine with Fox Sports, Fox News, and Fox-owned and operated stations and will become “what we are calling ‘New Fox,’ ” Newman says, a title that doesn’t sound like it will stick. A main focus of its business will largely be live events.

“Eighty percent of the programming in all of New Fox will be live and sports, and then the network will continue to do entertainment programming,” Walden said.

For now, they stressed, development and rollout of shows on Fox will be the same as usual, and to prove it, they had a few midseason titles to introduce that seemed at first more conventional than usual — police and hospital procedurals, two of the longest-running tropes in television. And there was a variation on the kind of show that once made Fox dominate - only to see it go to potential ally ABC.

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The new 9-1-1, which debuted Tuesday on Fox, seems to run from emergency call to emergency call, but it has a solid front cast of Angela Bassett, Peter Krause, and Connie Britton (all at left). More than that, it comes from Ryan Murphy, whose edgy, innovative shows have included the series American Horror Story, Feud, and American Crime Story.

“I had missed doing procedural elements since Nip/Tuck, which was something I always loved," Murphy said in a morning session. All of the cases on Nip/Tuck were based on true cases. All of the cases on this show are based on true cases. And I hadn’t done that for a while.”

Just as every episode of Nip/Tuck started “Tell me what you don’t you like about yourself,” each segment of the new show begins, “9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”

How do they come up with so many crazy cases, from a baby flushed down a toilet, to a snake choking a pet owner? “Honestly, the Internet is really helpful,” says producer Brad Falchuk.

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The other new Fox procedural, The Resident, debuting Jan. 21, boasts an ensemble that includes Bruce Greenwood, Matt Czuchry (left), and Emily VanCamp.

Shot and set in Atlanta, the show is from Amy Holden Jones, who aims to do something different than hospital shows that all end in heroics.

“We are trying to show things that you and the general audience don’t know about what goes on in hospitals, partially so you can protect yourself and partially because we are tired of seeing the same thing that every show on television is doing,” she said, “at least on network television.”

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When American Idol was in its heyday on Fox, nothing could touch it on TV in ratings. Since then, numbers fell, it had its finale in April 2016 and then suddenly showed up on the schedule on ABC with Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan as judges.

But before that debuts March 11, Fox is kicking off a six-episode singing competition on its own, The Four, which debuted Thursday, hours after a panel still tried to explain how it all worked.

Based on an Israeli format, it begins with a group of four finalists who are challenged by other singers for their slots. If approved by a panel of judges that include Sean Combs (above), Meghan Trainor, DJ Khaled (above), and record executive Charlie Walk, a challenger can take on a member of the Four of his or her choice. The studio audience at the taping — done a week before broadcast — votes on the battle winners. A finale, though, will allow home viewers to vote for the first time.

“I’ve been getting stumped on this question to explain the show,” Combs said. “But it’s kind of simple: It’s like Game of Thrones, OK?  Okay? You get to challenge, and if you want to chop somebody’s head off to get the seat, it has that vibe.” He later described it as a schoolyard fight.

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In other panels of the day, a midday live table read of a future Family Guy episode (above) seemed largely laugh-free.

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And there was a date set for the seventh and final season for New Girl, April 18.

Its eight final episodes will jump three years into the future so that Schmidt and Cece’s baby will become a toddler; Jess and Nick are still together and returning from a book tour (since Nick is an author), and Winston and Aly are married and expecting, the network announced.

“I really wanted a chance to, like, say goodbye to the show,” creator Elizabeth Meriwether said. “It really was fun this season writing these characters a little more grown up.”

If the election results dominated the last winter press tour, this year’s was expected to reflect the fall of high powered men in Hollywood after charges of inappropriate behavior.

But it wasn’t until the end of the day, at the New Girl session, that the issue came up at all — possibly because of all the attention on the Fox-Disney merger.

For its part, the fallout from the #MeToo movement meant some New Girl episodes for the new season were tweaked, producer Brett Baer said. “As these things were happening, we made some adjustments just to make sure that we were handling things in a way that would, six months from when we were shooting them, actually play in a way that felt right for us,” he said.

When Meriwether first wrote the show’s pilot, it definitely had a name that wouldn’t fly today: "Chicks & Dicks."

“Back then it was accepted,” show star Zooey Deschanel (above) said, though when she first received the script, “I was like, ‘I’m not reading that script called 'Chicks & Dicks’ … I was like, What? I feel violated just looking at its title.”

“I’ve always been good at titles,” Meriwether said.

The issue is sure to come up Friday on the second day of press tour when sister network FX takes the stage; it cut ties with Louis C.K., executive producer of a handful of shows it ran or that were in production, after he admitted charges of sexual misconduct in November.

 
 
 
 
 
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