Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
The Following creator and exec producer Kevin Williamson was obliged to defend the jarring level of sex and violence (particularly violence) in his new Fox horror thriller as the network kicked off its day at TCA this morning. In the wake of the mass killings last year in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT, critics peppered Williamson with questions about whether television shows like this one may be part of the problem. His general response wasn’t defensive so much as uncertain. “I think we all worry about (the violence issue),” Williamson admitted. “Who wasn’t affected by Sandy Hook? We say in the writers room after that and were all traumatized by it.” But he was somewhat befuddled over whether the graphic violence and gore of a series like The Following might contribute negatively to perceptions of violence in society. His show, after all, depicts a woman stabbing herself in the eye and strangers being randomly set afire in the street. He acknowledged that he isn’t sure if there is a cumulative effect of all of the violence on his own orientation. “I know that when I put pen to paper, it affects me, but I’m not sure how,” Williamson said. “We don’t sit around (in the writers room) and think of ways to kill people. I’m sitting and thinking of the drama. It’s meant to be a thriller and a provocative story. I guess it is a horrific and scary show but…”
At the same time, Williamson acknowledged that the violence at Columbine many years ago absolutely inspired Following. “The story is shining a light on some of those kids,” he said. But he added that the show is meant to be “a work of fiction.” And the network hasn’t tried to scale back the level of violence, he maintained. The bigger struggle for him has been continuing to deal with the six-act structure of broadcast television and “how to make something scary when you’re writing to a commercial break.” To that end, he said that the Fox drama 24 remains “like my favorite show of all time…That sort of thrill-ride and page-turner tone is what I’m going for with this show.”
For his part, star Kevin Bacon is happy to have landed on a new series with “such an interesting character.” He noted that the level of quality in scripts has greatly changed over the past 3 or 4 years. “All of a sudden I was just reading all of this amazing stuff,” he said. “I had originally thought (whatever I did) was going to be on cable, but this was such a page-turner and still had a lot of great heart and even sentimentality that I really responded to it.”