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By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES, Jan 8 (Reuters) - The makers of a grisly new serial killer TV series, "The Following," defended the show on Tuesday in the wake of outrage over the shootings last month of young children at a school in Connecticut and a rising debate over violence in the entertainment industry.
The series, which premieres on Fox television on Jan. 21, stars Kevin Bacon and centers on an imprisoned serial killer (played by James Purefoy), who inspires his cult-like following to commit murders and acts of suicide.
The pilot includes a scene in which a young woman stabs herself in the eye. Trailers for the drama were modified following the gun rampage in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 13, which killed 20 young children and six teachers at Sandy Hook elementary school.
"There are some moments that are squeamish. It's not for the faint of heart, but it's not the sum of the show," Kevin Williamson, creator of "The Following," told television reporters on Tuesday.
Asked whether the Connecticut shootings and other recent gun rampages in the United States had given him pause for thought, Williamson replied.
"Who wasn't affected by Sandy Hook? I'm still disturbed when I think of (last year's movie theater shooting) in Aurora (Colorado). We sat in the writers room after that happened and we were all traumatized by it."
But Williamson dismissed suggestions that "The Following" was mostly about violence, saying it was as much about the cat-and-mouse relationship between Bacon's former FBI agent and Purefoy's charismatic cult leader character.
"It's meant to be a thriller with a provocative story at its root. On one hand, there is an heroic, amazing do-gooder paired up with the most evil, crazed psychopath I could come up with, and that, to me, is the heart of the show," Williamson said.
Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly also faced tough questioning about the show at a time when makers of television, movies and videogames are under scrutiny.
"We all worry about it. We are happy to engage and be a part of any dialogue and any study that can further a constructive dialogue. ... But the conversation is a complex one and a broad one," he said.
"Not to be defensive about it, but we are putting on an excellent thriller," Reilly said. "We are not glorifying a killer. I think its going to be a very successful and entertaining (show) for an adult audience."
A task force set up after the Connecticut shooting and headed by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is due to meet with representatives of the entertainment and videogame industry and the National Rifle Association, the White House said on Tuesday.
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; editing by Christopher Wilson)