At the TV summer press tour, Fox execs assert that ''24,'' faltering with critics, doesn't need fixing. Plus: Can ''Back to You'' save the traditional sitcom?

By Tanner Stransky
July 24, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Instead of some sort of big-reveal speech, Fox kicked off its two days of press tour by trotting out new entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly (who was quickly snapped up this month after his ouster as head of NBC) and recently promoted entertainment president Peter Liguori to casually answer questions about the state of the burgeoning network and its fall lineup. The crowd of hungry reporters naturally bombarded Reilly about his transition from NBC, even peppering him with queries about that network’s water-cooler shows, Friday Night Lights and the upcoming Chuck. He politely wiggled out of those questions and instead said of his recent switch that he wouldn’t be making sweeping changes at Fox. ”I’m not getting behind the wheel here feeling like the wheels are about to come off,” he said, not-so-subtly winking at the mess NBC was in when he swooped in there. ”These guys put together a good fall schedule.”

And actually, a feeling of brotherly love emanated from the two Fox toppers: At one point, Liguori quipped that they ”finish each other’s sentences.” Much of the ensuing chatter focused on what the net would be doing with its aging stalwarts, like 24, as well as new controversies brought up by midseason entry The Sarah Connor Chronicles and whether new comedy Back to You (starring Patricia Heaton and Kelsey Grammar) can save the traditional-sitcom format.

Questioning 24
After what many critics felt was a slumping season for the show, Liguori said that — just like in past years — decisions are made to ”reinvigorate the franchise” and that it has been a policy not to divulge the show’s plotlines or other changes. ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Liguori, who added that he — unlike many of those in the auditorium — was not disappointed with the past season. One 24 tidbit that was officially announced (after unconfirmed reports on Friday): Two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones will populate the Oval Office as 24‘s first female president. ”We’ve been thinking about a woman as president for a long time,” Liguori said.

Sarah Connor re-shoots
A handful of scenes in the new Terminator-offshoot series depict a school shooting, which one journalist described as ”painful to watch.” Liguori assured that the scenes were being looked at very closely in context of what happened at Virginia Tech this spring. ”Those scenes were shot before Virginia Tech,” he said. ”We plan on re-shooting with recognition of what happened.” He also defended the show’s aggressive tone, saying, ”[The show’s] cornerstone isn’t violence. It’s, oddly enough, an action family drama. It’s got the tone of a comic book.” Still, he said, everyone involved was ”completely in agreement that we have to address” the situation. There’s plenty of time, too, since the show isn’t likely to bow until January (to capitalize off the largely female audience of American Idol, it seems).

Commitment to traditional comedies
With its multi-camera, laugh-track format, Fox’s new show Back to You is as traditional as comedy comes — and stars two of the comedy universe’s greats in Patricia Heaton and Kelsey Grammar. But everyone at press tour wanted to know: Is this the old-school sitcom’s last chance? ”I don’t think any single show should be the savior of any particular form,” Liguori said. ”We think Back to You is a funny show. Kevin and I are not going to shy away from multi-camera comedies.” Executive producer Steven Levitan, who admitted that he’s ”sick of people trashing the comedy,” made it clear that there’s no such thing as a ”canned laugh” on Back to You. ”We shoot the show in front of the audience, and we don’t add laughs where there were none,” he said.

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