“We’re not taking any victory laps yet,” said Fox co-chairman Dana Walden in an executive session at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, a sentiment she repeated enough that it started to sound like a victory lap. And Fox has plenty to celebrate, having launched broadcast’s number one show, Empire, which wrapped its freshman season with a live-plus-seven audience of nearly 18 million viewers and a jaw-dropping 26 million viewers if you include a month’s worth of DVR numbers. And Empire isn’t the only new show to succeed under Walden and her co-chairman Gary Newman, who just completed their first year at the network’s helm.
“We also feel really good about two other shows we launched last season, with the support of many of you in this room, Gotham and The Last Man On Earth, which are also shows that are performing very well for us,” said Walden, adding that both shows are averaging 12 million viewers per episode. Walden and Newman also peacocked about Wayward Pines, the summer series that helped Fox rally to a July sweeps victory over NBC, CBS, ABC, and Univision.
In a surprisingly news-dense executive session, Walden and Newman unveiled a spate of development and casting news, including another musical series from Empire creator Lee Daniels and a present-day Urban Cowboy series adaptation. Daniels’ new show, Star, will follow the rise of an Atlanta-based R&B girl group and will be developed in partnership with writer Tom Donaghy, creator of ABC’s short-lived legal drama The Whole Truth. Urban Cowboy is being developed by Hustle & Flow director Craig Brewer and is scheduled to begin production in September.
Neither show has begun casting yet, but Walden and Newman had lots of casting news to announce for its other shows, including a guest arc from Bill Hader on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, plus appearances by Jason Sudeikis on Last Man, Pitbull on Empire, and Michael Chiklis on Gotham.
Fox is working on other new shows, at least in the “everything old is new again” sense, announcing the resurrection of the infamously cuckoo-bananas Prison Break. Newman said stars Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell were drawn back to the show by a treatment by creator Paul Scheuring that was good enough that Newman expects a straight-to-series order. (It also helps that Scheuring’s treatment will retcon a major character’s death.) The network is still hard at work on a 24 reboot that would continue the franchise without Kiefer Sutherland, because real time waits for no man, including Jack Bauer. The X-Files limited series is also on track, and the network heads presented the first footage from the series, a clip in which Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) reconnect following an estrangement.
Put bluntly, the clip was weird, and not weird in the way footage from The X-Files should be. Many of the critics in the room were surprised by the tone of the clip, which somehow came across as comedic and spoof-like thanks to stilted performances by Duchovny and Anderson and dialogue that sounded like it was cribbed from fan fiction. The clip also confirmed that Mulder and Scully are no longer romantically linked, though this news was greeted much more favorably than news of Kermit and Miss Piggy’s separation.
Fox concluded its TCA presentations with an Empire panel in which Daniels and show runner Ilene Chaiken teased a super-sized season two, up 18 episodes from season one’s 12. Daniels also said the show’s breakneck pace will be slightly scaled back in the second season, though that doesn’t mean Cookie Lyon will be any less fierce and fabulous. Taraji P. Henson, after pleading with a spoiler-averse Daniels, told a story about how she questioned the wisdom of an upcoming storyline while watching dailies with Chaiken. “[Chaiken] said ‘We’re here to fuck shit up,’” Henson said. Hopefully in a good way, not an X-Files reboot kind of way.