New Fox show 'Shots Fired' delves into the justice system and race

'Shots,' which premieres on March 22, depicts two deaths likely linked to a sheriff's department – one of which receives far more attention from the government. Sanaa Lathan and Stephan James star in the 10-episode series.

Fred Norris/Fox/AP
'Shots Fired' stars Sanaa Lathan.

The creators of a new Fox TV series, “Shots Fired,” hope to explore topics including race and the justice system with their program, the latest broadcast series to look at contemporary issues following the critical success of, for one, ABC’s TV show “American Crime.”

“Shots,” which debuts on March 22 and is set to run for 10 episodes, looks at two cases: one involving a young white man who was killed by a black member of the sheriff’s department, and one in which a young African-American man was killed and the mostly white sheriff’s department may have been involved. The Department of Justice and the state are looking into the death of the young white man, while the other incident gets much less attention. 

The program stars Sanaa Lathan, Stephan James, Stephen Moyer, and Tristan Wilds.

Co-creators Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood, who are both black, told the Associated Press that in creating the series, they were inspired by the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and George Zimmerman’s acquittal. But they twisted the expected story, so the police officer who fatally shoots a young man is black, and the young man himself is white. “Just that alone, to be able to challenge people’s points of view just in the way you would look at the story, that was compelling,” Mr. Bythewood told the AP. 

The program is TV creators' latest attempt to explore contemporary issues, with past successes including the classic sitcom “All in the Family,” which centered on the prejudiced Archie Bunker, and “The Wire,” which depicted drug-dealing and schools, among other topics, in present-day Baltimore. 

Washington Post writer Scott Tobias comments that viewers may be surprised to see “Shots” on a broadcast network, noting, “With its provocative subject matter, ‘Shots Fired’ sounds more suited for a cable outlet such as HBO or FX.”

Yet “Shots” landed at Fox. And in some ways, it resembles ABC's “American Crime,” with its seemingly unlikely network home and single-season storytelling. The anthology show “Crime,” which debuted in 2015, was positively received by critics, with the program receiving Emmy nominations that same year for awards including best limited series and best lead actor and lead actress in a limited series or movie for Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman, respectively. Actress Regina King won the best supporting actress in a limited series or movie Emmy for her work on the show.

The third season of “Crime” just debuted on March 12. This season centers on migrant workers, while past seasons explored issues including racism, the legal system, and sexual assault. 

Philadelphia Daily News writer Ellen Gray calls “Shots” and “Crime” “broadcast dramas with a cable edge.”

“This is all tricky territory for broadcast TV,” she writes of the subjects in “Crime,” “which might envy cable its cachet – especially during awards season – but which can’t afford to alienate advertisers or the broader audience.”

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