PASADENA -- There will be a lot of people following The Following when it arrives in prime time this Monday.
But the question that should concern its producers and the networks that carry it is, "Why?"
Will the series, which has already made headlines because of its violent content, earn an audience because it's a dark, dramatic thriller, or will people be paying attention because it's fuel for the ongoing debate over the role of TV violence in recent mass-shooting incidents in the U.S.?
Tough question. And not the only such query aimed at the show and Fox Broadcasting's executives last week during that network's portion of the semi-annual TV press tour in Los Angeles.
The Following, which premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on Fox and CTV, stars Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent who is called back into service when a serial killer (played by James Purefoy) he helped convict is released from prison and immediately returns to his murderous ways. This time, however, he has help, and more killers can only mean one thing: more on-screen violence.
"Well, I think we all worry about it," series creator Kevin Williamson (Dawson's Creek, The Vampire Diaries, the Scream movies) said when asked to defend the violence in The Following's storyline. "I mean, who wasn't affected by Sandy Hook? Or the one that I'm still disturbed when I think of (is the theatre shooting last fall in) Aurora.
"We'd sit in the writers' room after that happened and it was just sort of like we're all traumatized by it. It reaches a moment where that just gets too real, and it's very disturbing. But I think that's one of the reasons it still affects me, because it's just so real. I'm writing fiction. I'm just a storyteller. And you think there's this cumulative effect. I don't know. I know it affected me. I know what happens in the real world affects me. So when I take pen to paper, there is a reaction to it."
That said, however, The Following is a shock-driven drama in which many of the emphatic moments involve rather startling on-screen violence, complete with bloody corpses and rather imaginative ways of injuring the human body. It might just be a case of unfortunate timing in relation to recent real-world events, but there's little doubt that The Following will become a lightning rod in discussions of TV violence and its effect on vulnerable young minds in coming weeks.
Beyond that, however, The Following is also a rather good drama within its genre. Much more than merely the sum of its grisly shriek-moment parts, it's a riveting cat-and-mouse tale about a broken man (Bacon) forced to revisit the case and the killer responsible for his emotional and professional unravelling.
Bacon said it's a role he could not refuse.
"I was looking (for a TV series) for a long time, probably three or four years," he explained. "And from the moment that I kind of made that decision, I started to read just one amazing pilot after another. And what really struck me, all of a sudden, was the level of the scripts.
"And I read this one, and I could not put it down. It was just such a page turner. I thought it was such an interesting character. And given the fast-paced, heart-pounding nature of it, it still had a lot of great heart and a certain kind of, almost, sentimentality that I really responded to."
As an actor who has spent his career in feature films, Bacon was forced to make a quick adjustment to the smaller budgets and much faster pace of TV production. It's a change, he explained, that he was fully prepared to endure.
"In terms of the pace, I had a pretty good sense of it because of my wife's (Kyra Sedgwick) experience. She was on The Closer for seven years, and I directed four of those episodes. And I've done a lot of independent films too, where you have a really heavy page count per day and you have to be, you know, moving and moving and moving.
"And I like that. I think it's kind of it's exciting. It requires, in general, more instinct and less preparation. I had a lot of time -- we all did -- to prepare for the pilot, but on an ongoing basis, you've got to really be thinking on your feet. And I think that, as an actor, rehearsal work and homework is all really great stuff, but I think that if you really have a good sense of who your guy is and you've really done the work on who that person is, you should be able to just be thrown into a situation and be true to who your character is, to be able to walk in those shoes at a moment's notice.
"And that's really that's what we do all day, and it's exciting. So a lot of scenes, long days -- I was ready for that."
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Starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy
Monday at 8 p.m.
Fox and CTV