Kevin Williamson, whose new series The Following is about a serial killer and his cult-like acolytes, admits that he can't help but be influenced by the mass shootings at Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook when writing his stories. But in the same breath, he wants people to know that his stories are works of fiction. "We were all traumatized by [these events], and it reached a moment when it's all too real [and] it affected me, so when I take pen to paper there's a reaction to it. But I'm just writing; I'm a storyteller," Williamson told critics at the TCA's winter TV previews.
The Following stars Kevin Bacon as retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who was responsible for capturing Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), the country's most terrifying serial killer. But when Carroll-like murders resume, Hardy discovers that his former foe has a group of homicidal devotees who await his every instruction.
"Here's this guy who's evil personified, but he's also a teacher — a very good teacher — and has found a way to assimilate some of his students to do his bidding," Williamson says. "[He] can pinpoint what's missing in your life and can fill it." Purefoy sees it a little differently. "These are people who don't need the slightest bit of convincing to do the things they do," he says. "They have joined up with him because he offers a non-judgmental and safe place to do the things they want to do."
The first few episodes, which depict several elaborate murders, including a particularly grisly suicide, beg the question: Is it all too much? "There are some squeamish moments and it's not for the faint of heart," Williamson maintains. "It's meant to be a thriller with a provocative story at its root."
Still, Bacon says he responded to the material's humanity. "I could not put it down," he says. "It was such a page-turner with an interesting character, and, given the fast-paced, heart-pounding nature of it, it still had a great heart and almost a sentimentality that I responded to." Of Williamson, the architect of The Vampire Diaries and the Scream movies, Bacon says, "In a lot of ways, Kevin is a softie."
The Following premieres on Monday, Jan. 21 at 9/8c on FOX.
Watch the trailer below: