PASADENA, Calif. — Fox's entertainment chief said Tuesday that the network did not change the content of "The Following," its upcoming drama about a serial killer, because of the Connecticut school shooting or other real-life acts of violence.
The drama, featuring Kevin Bacon chasing a grisly killer who recruits murderous disciples, is simultaneously the most stomach-churning and most anticipated new dramas on television's docket. Debuting Jan. 21 on Fox, the Kevin Williamson-created series opens by showing the bloody aftermath of knifed prison guards, has a woman commit suicide by gouging her eye and piercing her skull with an ice pick, and shows a man set on fire at a coffee stand.
While Kevin Reilly, Fox entertainment chairman, initially said the series' promotion wasn't affected, a spokesman later noted that some ads for the show were softened immediately following the Connecticut shooting. Electronic billboards depicting a woman with an ice pick were changed to pictures of Bacon, said Fox's Joe Earley. Some on-air ads with action sequences were also changed to focus on Bacon, and Fox combed its promotions to make sure none of them depicted actors with guns, Earley said.
Williamson, creator of the "Scream" movie franchise, said he was traumatized by the events of Dec. 14, when 20 first graders and six educators were gunned down in a Newton, Conn., elementary school.
"I know it affected me," Williamson said. "I know what happens in the real world affects me. So when I take pen to paper, there is a reaction to it and it sort of finds its way into what I do."
He doesn't know how the latest attack will affect his work. "It just happened," he said. "We'll see."
But Williamson said "The Following" is partly inspired by the Columbine school shootings of a decade ago. He said he wonders how people like the Columbine killers are attracted to evil as a way of filling a void in their lives. The serial killer in "The Following" is a charismatic figure who attracts followers by trying to provide them with something they are missing.
Violence in movies, video games and television has received attention since the Newtown shootings, along with the availability of guns and mental health services. Reilly said people "can't be reactionary and you can't draw a direct linkage."
The series is intense, but it needs to be to compete in the world of thrillers, Reilly said.
Reilly said he believes there have been shows that are more violent than "The Following" on broadcast television, but they haven't been noticed, partly because they were bad. Fox is trying to provide escapist entertainment, which include moments that can make you laugh or be your worst nightmare, he said.
"Of course, these things are on my mind," Reilly said. "But the question is a complex one and a broad one."
The question is also a touchy one for Reilly, who snapped at a reporter who asked about Newtown and said he'd take no more questions on the topic.
Fox has gone through a rough season, failing to mint any new hits or attract an audience to its buzzed-about Tuesday night comedies. It is looking forward to a better second half of the year with "The Following" and the return of "American Idol."
Reilly said Fox needs to make some more noise.
"It's a goal of mine to get the Fox back into Fox," he said. "Before there was cable, Fox was cable."