Kevin Bacon

Fox is bringing home the Bacon.

For his first regular series role since playing troubled teen lush Tim "TJ" Werner on CBS' Guiding Light in 1981, Kevin Bacon is going even darker, and it's a killer fit. Just don't call The Following another police procedural. Even though the ink-black thriller centers on the hunt for a madman's cult of homicidal fans, "I was not interested in playing that procedural formula," says Bacon, 54, looking relaxed and boyishly shaggy in his trailer on the show's Brooklyn set. "That is something I asked about a lot."

Instead, The Following is a blood-soaked, 24-style thrill ride, anchored by Bacon's FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who is lured out of retirement after an erudite serial killer (Rome's James Purefoy) he collared almost 10 years earlier escapes from prison. It's grim, unsettling and Fox's riskiest bid for a hit midseason drama. For the network, having a marquee name like Bacon above the title was key.

"I kept saying that we needed to do this with a movie star," says Kevin Williamson, who is executive producing along with his Vampire Diaries coexecutive producer Marcos Siega. "We needed a dynamic leading man, and I kept saying, 'Someone like Kevin Bacon,' because I had heard that he was toying with doing television."

Not that Bacon hadn't done any TV since his soap days. He scored an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for playing a military escort charged with delivering a Marine's corpse to his family in HBO's 2009 TV-movie Taking Chance, and he even directed wife Kyra Sedgwick in a handful of episodes of The Closer. But with a busy film schedule, he just hadn't committed to a full-time gig like fellow '80s poster boys Kiefer Sutherland, Patrick Dempsey and Charlie Sheen. In fact, it wasn't until his work on Sedgwick's TNT series that Bacon began to realize that the small screen held big potential.

"Seeing Kyra's experience, I thought, 'Boy, I want to be part of that.'" Bacon recalls. "So I started to explore TV options, and it took a few years to find something that felt right, where all the pieces came together. This was the one."

It almost wasn't, though. "My agent called and said that Kevin was reading scripts again, but he only wanted to do cable," says Williamson, citing Bacon's reluctance to sign on for a broadcast-standard 22 episodes. "I thought that was the end of that. Then his agent gave him our script anyway, and he loved it. We met and worked out this deal where he didn't have to do 22 episodes." Turns out, Bacon had a major fan in Peter Roth, the president of Warner Bros. Television, which produces The Following, and there was no way Roth wasn't getting his man. "Peter wanted him so bad for the part, he was like, 'You know what? Let's do 15 episodes.'" That and the decision to film the show in New York (where Bacon and Sedgwick live) were all he needed, says Williamson.

Well, that and maybe some advance warning. Even though Bacon had witnessed firsthand how Sedgwick had developed her Brenda Leigh Johnson over seven seasons on The Closer, he was initially thrown by the expansive nature of series television. "The thing I wasn't ready for was watching the pilot and getting my head around the fact that it wasn't my whole performance," he says. "You know, I'm used to doing a movie and it being all of my s---. Once I got that, it was kind of cool because I didn't have to [give everything] in the first two episodes. We can slowly reveal the nature of this man, and I can hold stuff back."

Good thing someone is, because the show itself pulls no punches. The followers of Purefoy's Joe Carroll, the college lit professor whose obsession with Edgar Allan Poe fueled his slaughter of 14 coeds, are a brutal bunch, and their handiwork results in a level of gore rarely seen on network television. How gory? The pilot features more gouged eyes than many may be able to stomach, and the second episode shows a man ­being doused with gasoline and set ablaze by one of Carroll's fans, who is wearing a Poe costume. "It's out there," Williamson admits.

Carrying such a high-buzz drama that could scare away a large number of squeamish viewers puts enough pressure on Bacon, but the actor says his main goal was helping Williamson and Siega pluck the clichés from his character. "Kevin originally saw my character as a bit more of a counterpoint mastermind to Purefoy's genius killer," Bacon says. "My feeling was that it would be more interesting if Ryan wasn't a profiler. That he was a law-enforcement guy, a field agent kind of a grunt with great instinct about this case and how to handle it, instead of being the Mentalist."

The Following premieres Monday, January 21 at 9/8c on Fox.

For more with Kevin Bacon, pick up this week's issue of TV Guide Magazine, on newsstands Thursday, January 17!

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