Anthological Show: enjoying television in a new old way
Douglas Petrie, writer and co-executive producer of American Horror Story, recently announced the setting for the upcoming season 4. This time audiences will be transported in a 1950’s era carnival. And fans have been surging approval all week. As a fan of AHS myself, how can we not get excited about this new setting? 1950’s carnies? Yes, please! This reported setting ekes everything traditional where horror is concerned. Horror is rooted in the mystique of the carnival, from the days of Lon Chaney, Tod Browning, and Irving Thalberg. But even for non horror historians, folks will enjoy the twisted nature of the grandfather of theme-parks. This fall we’ll find “who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? [And] who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?” (The Funhouse, 1981).
The popularity of American Horror Story is interesting. Horror has always festered in the hearts of those depraved enough to look, but AHS has a wider base audience that doesn’t fit the typical horror fan scheme. The same was said regarding Frank Darabont’s take on The Walking Dead; however, rating and audience approval has been a roller coaster ride all its own, with downs in the opening of a new season, and ups midway through the second half, while AHS has enjoyed a rather steady climb, growing a wider fan base with each season. Why is that?
Perhaps using The Walking Dead as a comparison isn’t exactly fare. Getting zombies on a continuing television show is a transformative process, especially a Romero influenced zombie story. Truth be told, how many episodes can you really do before you know everything there is to know about the characters involved? How much longer can this story of this set of particular characters go on? On the other hand, audiences (despite disapproval) feel invested in these character stories and will sit down every Sunday night (or Monday afternoon, if you watch online) season after season just to see what happens next. OR…The Walking Dead could take a cue out of American Horror Story’s play book. Dedicate an entire season to just one cast of characters and their story. Producers could make the seasons a tad bit longer, but that’s it. One season, done.
You may or may not agree with the above formula. But hey, its working for American Horror Story. And why, you may be asking? Because its an old new take on how the cogs of horror operate. Long drawn out and reoccurring seasons on the same set of characters will kill a horror story quicker than the FCC. Consider Tales from the Crypt, a near decade run horror anthology (1989-96) that demanded absolutely zero audience dedication, because each show was a single story all its own, and yet people still tuned in to hear the Crypt Keeper’s hilarious chuckal and corny one liners. And before the Crypt, we had Tales from the Darkside, created by George Night of the Living Dead Romero himself, which ran from 1983 til 88′. And before Darkside, during the 70’s we had Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-73) based on some of the early work being done by Stephen King. And before that was audiences enjoyed The Twilight Zone (1959-64), with its incredible cast of writers, which included alums of macabre Alfred Hitchcock and Ray Bradbury. Anthologies work! Its a proven 55 year old formula! The only difference now is that American Horror Story has taken said formula and turned it into a single season turn around, instead of a single episode turn around. And this gives us the best of both worlds. We can become invested in characters without feeling stuck with them until the show comes to its inevitable end.
And that’s the rub, right? I think most of us have a tendency of kidding ourselves by thinking our beloved shows will end. And there are those who still feel the sting of watching an amazing show never reach its desired conclusion (cough cough, Firefly, cough) before being canceled. Perhaps the future of television will focus on crafting seasons the way American Horror Story does. Sure, it might not work for most shows, especially shows soiled in drama who keep audiences coming back by drastically killing off major characters (no matter how beloved) each and every end of a season, and despite how much you hate the writers for it, you still come back dammit! But for horror and science fiction, the anthology platform works and can actually improve both the story and ratings. What are your thoughts on the old new? Leave them in the comments box below!