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Fox Execs Defend the Network’s Reliance on Reboots and Remakes Like ‘Lethal Weapon,’ ’24,’ ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Prison Break’

TCA: Fox's Dana Walden and David Madden also discuss Mariah Carey on "Empire," Matt Nix's "X-Men" drama, a new Mark Burnett musical game show and navigating Peak TV.

Dana Walden and David Madden

Dana Walden and David Madden, Fox

Fox

Fox is betting big on remakes and reboots next season – but Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden says there’s a strategy behind it.

The network’s new takes on “Lethal Weapon” and “The Exorcist,” plus reboots of “24” (now “24: Legacy”) and “Prison Break” had critics questioning Fox’s bounty of pre-existing intellectual properties. But Walden told reporters Monday at the Television Critics Association that “our hope was that well-known titles, if and only if well executed, would lighten the load on our marketing team.”

Said Walden: “The objectives from marketing are, you want to build awareness, intent to view, and you want to link shows to your network. Recognizable titles help us majorly with one of those objectives. Then the shows have to win the day.”

Still, “reboots are not a guarantee of success, and we know that as well as anyone,” said Walden, whose network failed last season with a new take on “Minority Report.”

Walden admitted she was skeptical in particular with a new “Lethal Weapon,” but the pilot “leapt over the bar. It was an incredibly high-testing pilot.”

“The Exorcist” came out of Fox’s desire to do a spooky show – and the famed title was available. The “24” producers have always had a passion in keeping that franchise going.

And the “Prison Break” revival came out of a lunch Walden and fellow Fox TV Group chairman Gary Newman had with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos. After Sarandos told them how popular the show was with users, they began pitching series creator Paul Scheuring on bringing “Prison Break” back.

READ MORE: ‘MacGyver,’ Matt LeBlanc & ‘Chicago’ Everything: 7 Reasons the Networks Are Acting Like Networks Again

It’s been two years since Walden and Newman added the Fox network to their duties as head of 20th Century Fox TV, and Walden admitted it had been “a really tough job… This is a time for rebuilding at Fox, and networks in general.”

Walden noted that broadcast shows “have not been the flavor of the moment, and for good reason.” Now that several cable and streaming services are producing and airing just as many series as the broadcast networks, “the playing field has leveled. Everyone is in the volume production business.”

Walden also noted that Fox is in the middle of a particularly rough summer, ratings-wise. “[We’re] clearly not where we want to be this summer.” She said Fox was aggressively looking at developing more scripted and unscripted fare for next summer.

In a first, Newman sat this summer’s Fox executive session out – he and Walden will now rotate between the two TCA press tours every year. Instead, Fox Entertainment president David Madden, who oversees the network’s series development, joined Walden on stage. Together, Walden and Madden also addressed the challenge of attracting talent to the network in this age of Peak TV.

While Peak TV is “a challenge” in trying to staff shows with enough experienced writers, Walden said talent is still willing to try broadcast TV “in order to be a part of the zeitgeist. They get to be a part of the national conversation.”

Madden said he’s noticed how talent, soured on broadcast, has moved to cable and streaming – and then return to broadcast once the sour on those platforms. “It’s a pendulum, depending on what somebody’s last experience has been.”

READ MORE: ‘The X-Files’ Season 11: Fox ‘Would Love To Do It’

Meanwhile, Walden said Fox decided to drop development of the “X-Men” franchise series “Hellfire” because “it felt like a show that wanted to live as a feature rather than really taking advantage of what television does best. ‘Hellfire’ felt like another installment of the features.”

Instead, the network is now working on another “X-Men”-themed series from Matt Nix. The new show is in development for next season and will include “some iconic characters,” but is mostly about a new family that goes on the run when they discover their children have mutant powers.

Fox is also set to air the limited-run series “Shots Fired” in midseason. The event, which focuses on racially-charged shootings in a Southern town, comes from Gina Prince-Blythewood and Reggie Blythewood. Given recent headlines, Walden said “Shots Fired” was more relevant and important than ever. “It has heightened my commitment to that show,” she said. “This is a story that needs to be told. It’s been incredibly well received.”

In other news during Fox’s portion of TCA:

  • It’s hard to believe, but after 27 seasons and nearly 600 episodes, “The Simpsons” hasn’t ever aired an hour-long episode – until now. “The Simpsons” will premiere a special hour-long edition in January 2017, as part of the show’s upcoming 28th season. The episode, titled “The Great Phatsby,” will feature Taraji P. Henson and Keegan-Michael Key as guest voices. The storyline follows Mr. Burns as he’s conned by a music mogul and loses all his money. Key plays rapper Jazzy James and Henson is Praline, the mogul’s ex-wife. The two of them, along with Homer and Bart, help Mr. Burns get his fortune back.

“I just pray it won’t be the last thing people see before a Trump inauguration,” said executive producer Al Jean.

  • Mariah Carey will guest star this fall on “Empire” as Kitty, a mega-superstar who comes to Empire to collaborate with Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett). Carey’s episode airs Wednesday, Oct. 5. Other guest stars this season include Taye Diggs, Sierra McClain, rapper French Montana and music mogul Birdman.
  • Broadway and film producer Marc Platt (“Bridge of Spies”), who produced “Grease: Live” for Fox, has sealed a first-look deal with 20th Century Fox TV. Also, “Grease: Live” and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail has created a production pod at 20th Century Fox TV, where he will develop, supervise and potentially direct television projects both for broadcast and cable. Kate Sullivan will serve as the Head of Development at Kail’s new company, titled Old 320 Sycamore.
  • Mark Burnett is behind the upcoming Fox musical game show, “Beat Shazam.” The show will follow teams as they play against each other, and later the app Shazam, to identify songs.
  • Amy Schumer will appear as a guest voice on all of Fox’s animated series on the night of Sept. 25.

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