Scott D. Pierce: Why would you watch horrific TV violence?

First Published      Last Updated Jul 28 2014 03:18 pm

Kevin Williamson couldn't have been surprised that the response to his new series "Stalker" has been critical.

The writer/producers's new CBS procedural drama, scheduled to premiere on Sept. 22, opens with a horrifying scene in which a stalker sets a young woman on fire.

"That was maybe being a little flashy to try to get picked up," said Williamson, trying to use humor to deflect criticism.

It didn't work. And that was, at least in part, because Williamson has a history of creating violence in movies (the "Scream" franchise) and television ("The Vampires Diaries," "The Following").

"Stalker" does for stalkers what "Criminal Minds" does for serial killers — makes them the subject of what's supposed to be an hour of escapist entertainment.

"We just sort of get into all the various ways that people stalk and fixate," Williamson said. "And that's sort of the fun for me."

The exchange between Williamson and some members of the Television Critics Association became rather testy at times. He didn't have a great answer when asked — where is the entertainment value in watching women (and some men) be terrorized by stalkers?

"Why is this interesting?" Williamson was asked. "Why is this fun or entertaining?"

His rather glib response? "Change the channel."

Later, he went on Twitter and offered childish replies to a critic who raised legitimate concerns about "Stalker."

Yes, Williamson and his shows are part of the problem. It's more than a bit frightening that networks turn over hours of their prime-time schedule to a guy who insists, "Well, it's a scary, eerie show because of the nature of the storylines. And I'm not going to shy away from it."

You've been warned.

But the fact remains that if viewers didn't tune in, these shows would go away. And millions of viewers tune in to "Criminal Minds." They are clearly entertained by serial-killer-of-the-week.

Millions tune in to Williamson's violent and ludicrous "The Following." They're clearly attracted to that story of a serial killer and his followers.

"It was meant to be a page-turner like reading a book where you just fly through twists and turns and fun and just sort of a thrill ride," Willimson said. "And it had sort of that violent stabby-stab stab element to it."

Yeah, what fun. All those stabby stabbings.

But who is to blame for the proliferation of violent programming on television? Certainly, the programmers and the producers put it out there.

They can't make us watch. We do that on our own.

But the blame is not all with the producers and the networks. If viewers didn't tune in, those shows would disappear. Quickly.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.