'Fringe,' British accents and weak comedy: Notes from FOX's press tour

Annatorv_fringe_240_002A few notes from FOX's day at the Television Critics Association press tour, wherein we discuss a British actor actually playing British, the state of the network's live-action comedy and, to kick things off, the return of Fringe next week.

Fringe will return to the schedule next week with a big, shiny lead-in in American Idol, which will presumably deliver more than a few new viewers to the show, which has been hovering around the 9 million-viewer mark with most of its new episodes. People who are already fans, though, won't have to sit through a re-introduction of the series.

"We're not going to do anything really conceptually," FOX Entertainment president Kevin Reilly says, noting that people can catch up with it at the network's web site and Hulu. "I think they've really found the storytelling model now, interestingly, and it's kind of a sleight of hand. I think we're going to see in the second half of the year [that] if you follow the show week to week, you will not be disappointed on the serialized through-lines, and yet the stories do reset themselves each week."

Because of the somewhat higher bar for entry, Reilly doesn't expect Fringe's ratings to explode when it's paired with Idol. "But I do expect it to have a little bit of a tick up to the next level." Ratings aside, though, he calls Fringe "a keeper" and thinks the show has found "a great groove."

Let Tim be Tim

Timroth_lietome_240Unlike his network counterpart Hugh Laurie -- and Kevin McKidd on Grey's Anatomy, Aussie Simon Baker on The Mentalist and Irishman Jason O'Mara on Life on Mars, among others -- the London-born Tim Roth gets to use his native accent in FOX's new series Lie to Me. The explanation is both simple and fairly nuanced.

First, the simple part: "Tim said, 'I want to be British.' And we said, 'OK,'" executive producer Steven Maeda says.

And now the more nuanced bit, with Roth explaining why he didn't want to take on the additional burden of doing an American accent: "I've done dialects a lot, and I know the work that goes into it and that you have to get pretty specific to convince some people that that's where you're from. ... So my feeling was it's the kind of character that you've got to be really flexible with and play around with and it has to be -- you have to be really light on your feet when you're doing him. And to have the added weight on you of trying to get the accent right would just be a waste of time."

Executive producer David Nevins also thinks viewers will be just fine with Roth's accent. "I think audiences are more comfortable with the British accent than we give them credit for," he says, citing FOX stars Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay. "[The character] doesn't have to be American, and we can work it into his backstory. So I think it makes perfect sense.

"And," he adds with a smile, "Americans think that a British accent makes you smart, and since he's a scientist ..."

Does anybody remember laughter?

Kevinreilly_nbcpresident_medium_s3_ FOX is beginning 2009 with no live-action comedies on its schedule, and although 'Til Death will be back at some point, there aren't any immediate plans for it to go on the air. The network's Sunday animation block is still doing fine, but Reilly is probably understating when he says the network is "rebuilding the live-action brand."

"We're down to a very low pulse level, I think, on the live-action comedy brand," he says. "It's very, very tough when you lose your blocks and you lose your protection."

Reilly says he admires the way CBS has maintained and even grown its Monday comedy block this season. He says FOX probably won't make any aggressive moves with live-action comedy "until we have a show that can either fire up a time period and we can spend a lot of money marketing it or we find a show that will be compatible behind Idol or a show that can be launched out of our animation block ... and then move."

Reilly also wants to get back to the idea of "FOX comedy," which he describes as "something that's a little bit bold, and it's got a point of view."

"We're not going to just sort of loft them down the middle," he says. "We have made some very good shows the last couple years that seemed to speak to a broader audience, and for whatever reason the FOX audience didn't embrace them. So we're going to go out and try to hit that nerve again."