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Scott D. Pierce: Fox surprised critics object to racism?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Beverly Hills, Calif. •

The folks at Fox knew that TV critics would hate their new sitcom "Dads." They did, after all, pick up a pilot that's filled with some pretty serious racism.

And members of the Television Critics Association wanted answers from Fox executives as well as the show's stars and producers. Because, you know, it's our job.

But at that point the folks at Fox acted sort of put-out. And surprised. Which was sort of surprising. Because they couldn't possibly have been surprised.

Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly knew what was coming. He arrived at his press conference armed with a pocket full of negative, early reviews of "The Big Bang Theory" and quickly pointed out "that show has gone on to be an enormous hit in prime time and in syndication."

And when he was asked about specifics of the "Dads" pilot, Reilly replied, "I get why you have that issue."

So, no, he wasn't surprised.

"Dads" stars Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as buddies whose senior-citizen fathers (Peter Riegert and Martin Mull) move in with them. The pilot is filled with slams at Asians, Hispanics and women. It features Mull's character describing a boxing match as "punch the Puerto Rican." And Green and Ribisi's characters instruct their employee (Brenda Song) to dress up as a sexy Asian schoolgirl to entertain Asian clients.

Nobody is reaching to find racism here. It's right out in the open.

The show's stars and executive producers — not Seth MacFarland, who dodged the critics — made bad jokes and invoked the spectre of the dreaded political correctness to try to deflect questions. It didn't work, and it was sort of pathetic.

"I think that we've become a really careful culture," Green said. "And as soon as people started suing each other over hurt feelings, people started getting more and more afraid to speak their mind."

Yeah, but no one was talking about suing anybody. We were just trying to get answers some rather obvious questions about the show's strong streak of racism.

Reilly, at least, admitted that there are problems with the "Dads" pilot.

"Do I think all the jokes right now are in calibration in the pilot? I don't," Reilly said. "But I can tell you right now, I have never seen a comedy in which all the jokes are in calibration."

Fair enough.

"If this show still has low-hanging-fruit jokes that seem in bad taste and haven't been earned with intelligence, and the characters have not become full blown over the course of the next summer months — No. 1, the show's not going to work," the Fox executive said. "And No. 2, you should take it to task."

We'll see if the pilot is actually reworked. We'll see if subsequent episodes subtract the racism and add some laughs — because what we've seen so far sure isn't funny.

But it's not reasonable to show critics a bad pilot and then act surprise when they react like it is what it is. Awful.

Scott D. Pierce's column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Mix. He can be reached at spierce@sltrib.com or 801-257-8603.

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