Lea Michele Stuns in Plunging Dress on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

How ‘Scream Queens” ‘white mammy’ problem may have tarnished Fox’s diversity glow.

When Dana Walden and Gary Newman assumed control of the Fox broadcast network in July 2014, their first call was to Ryan Murphy, a creator of “Glee” and “American Horror Story.” Walden and Newman hoped Murphy would help them revive a network that once dominated the ratings with “American Idol” and has struggled to find consistent hits since that show’s popularity sagged. “Abigail, you’re slaying,” Emma Roberts says, complimenting costar Abigail Breslin on her comedic delivery, during a break in shooting on Scream Queens’ New Orleans stages.

Fox Television was hailed this year for developing “Empire,” about the power struggle of an African American family fighting over control of a massive music empire. With “Scream Queens,” Murphy’s horror comedy that made its debut Tuesday night, they will soon find out if they were right. “If you want to make a statement, to do a show that feels unique and bold, by and large Ryan is going to deliver that,” Newman said in an interview. The two actresses, along with co-stars Skyler Samuels, Keke Palmer, Lea Michele, Billie Lourd, and Niecy Nash, who plays inept security guard Denise Hemphill, are shooting a scene in which Chanel #5 begins to crack under the pressure of being stalked by a killer and flees the house. “This is insane! In their first season, Newman and Walden put important building blocks in place with “Empire,” the most popular new show on TV, and more modest successes “Gotham” and “The Last Man on Earth.” Even so, Fox’s prime-time audience fell 16 percent, the steepest drop of the four networks.

But while critics and viewers applauded “Empire” as a major step in honoring cultural differences, those who tuned in to Tuesday night’s launch of Ryan Murphy’s horror-comedy “Scream Queens” may question Fox’s progress on the diversity front. Entering their second year, the pair are betting on five new shows in the fall led by “Scream Queens” to put Fox on firm ground for good. “We developed a lot of momentum last year, and are returning three shows that were popular,” Newman said. “It’s important in season two that we keep up that momentum.” Underscoring the importance of its investment, Fox is devoting four hours of prime time this week to “Scream Queens” — two hours Tuesday for the debut episodes and two hours Thursday for repeat viewings. Roberts’ Chanel feigns concern: “Number 5, don’t go—actually, I’m totally fine with her leaving.” Possibly the most ambitiously funny (and certainly most wicked) new show of the fall, it was the brainchild of Glee triumvirate Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan. Next week, the show will settle into its regular time of 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, following two comedies starring hunky, middle-aged men (John Stamos and Rob Lowe).

Airing Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m., Queens is a biting satire of millennials, feminism, and the collegiate Greek system mixed with an elaborate, gruesome Agatha Christie-style whodunit. Or to put it in the show’s parlance, it’s as if Glee and American Horror Story (co-created by Murphy and Falchuk) hooked up at a mixer and birthed a really bitchy daughter. “Scream Queens to me is kind of the dream of American Horror Story, but with the sprinkling of this amazing comedy aspect that Ryan, Ian, and Brad do so well,” says Emma Roberts. Like “Empire,” the new show blends big stars, Jamie Lee Curtis and Emma Roberts, with a genre — horror — that’s unusual for broadcast television. “There is a great sort of whodunit quality to the show that we like, which is what I think people need now, particularly with network, a reason to show up every week,” Murphy said at a presentation to television critics in August. The 25-year-old actress plays ruthlessly mean Kappa Kappa Tau president Chanel Oberlin, who finds her sorority, including minions Chanel #3 (Lourd) and Chanel #5 (Breslin), targeted for death by someone dressed as the university’s mascot, the Red Devil.

Bean,” Roberts sneers. “I call her ‘white mammy’ because she’s essentially a house slave.” Chanel later forces the maid to recite the “I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ no babies” line from “Gone With the Wind” — which, as Times critic Mary McNamara pointed out in her review, was actually said not by Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) but by another slave, Prissy (Butterfly McQueen). Chanel must also battle with Dean Munsch, who hates everything she stands for, and a group of undesirable new pledges (including Samuels, Michele, and Palmer) whom she’s forced to allow in.

It not only aims to pull in viewers with an all-star cast — which includes pop singers Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas in supporting roles — but also is being filmed as an anthology that will take the survivors to a new location next season. The creators are also eager to push the boundaries of what can be said and done on network television. (For instance, necrophilia plays a fairly major role.) “I sorta feel like if you’re gonna do broadcast TV, you better go far, because people are not interested in it if you don’t,” says Murphy. In the past, Murphy has been praised for his diverse casting and anti-bullying campaigns, especially on “Glee.” But the “white mammy” issue has caused some to take a second look at his older work. “There’s always a wink, a hair flip, a smirk to acknowledge the tongue-in-cheek nature of his jokes,” Cadenas wrote, “but that doesn’t lessen the vileness of these moments on his shows.” Cox added, “There’s something sinister about Murphy and friends’ insistence that it’s okay to dive into the reprehensible because we’re all supposed to know they don’t mean it.” Future “Scream Queens” episodes may reveal a reason behind Murphy’s broad-stroke caricatures. It may not be the point of view for everybody, but this is one of the funniest, best projects I have been involved with.” It’s also somewhat of a career rebirth for Curtis, who, since starring in Freaky Friday in 2003, has mostly just done guest spots on shows like New Girl and in commercials for the probiotic yogurt Activia. “I don’t want to denigrate that job, because the truth of the matter is I was happy doing it,” Curtis says of shilling yogurt. “We [worked with] great people, it was a public service… But to say it was creatively satisfying would be a lie. Though “Idol” still ranks among the most-watched programs on Fox, its ratings have tumbled in recent years. “No show has been more important to a network in the history of TV than ’Idol’ to Fox,” Adgate said. “Now they have to have a different strategy.” Fox’s most recent attempt at a reality show, “Utopia,” was an unqualified disaster.

The network will also air its first live musical, a modern rendition of “Grease.” “Any one show that’s a tremendous hit can help turn the fortunes of a network around,” said Chris Geraci, president of national broadcast at Omnicom Media Group, a media buyer.

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