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Horror on TV: How Fandom Convinced Me of Things that Weren’t True

Scene from American Horror Story

Is horror big on TV right now? Up until a few weeks ago, I thought so.

In early 2010, I was interning at an entertainment website when I received a feature for fact-checking. It was about The Walking Dead, a live action zombie TV series that was set to premiere on Halloween of that year. Wait, did I just read that correctly? Yes, zombies on TV! No way! Later that year, I was even more shocked by its mainstream success: critical acclaim, great ratings and a slew of award nominations. Zombies were a hit.

Nearly a year later, American Horror Story premiered. Penned by Glee’s Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the show took off, as much as a new show on an unpopular specialty channel could. Aside from being an awesome show with genuinely scary scenes and great writing, it too received some critical praise and award nominations.

Scene from The River

Two weeks ago, Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli premiered The River, this time on a major network. Then last week, the announcement broke that Lost’s Terry O’Quinn would star as the lead in a new supernatural drama on the same network. Horror seems big, right? Well, maybe not.

Kari Maaren, an English professor at Ryerson University who teaches a course on TV narrative, disagrees, though says that cross-genre horror is doing well with audiences right now, referencing True Blood, Supernatural, Fringe and even Doctor Who. Her reasoning? “It’s because straight horror doesn’t make the best serial show; straight horror works best in short formats when there’s a story that has a beginning and an end,” she says, whereas with cross genre horror, “You can have ‘monster of the week’ stories that begin and conclude in a single hour.”

Maaren made sense. Straight horror isn’t really that huge on TV right now. Truthfully, I can only think of three titles that are. So, why it that I feel that it is?

Rue Morgue president Rodrigo Gudiño provided a possible answer: “With horror fans, it’s always popular.” Woah, wait a second, there’s a world outside my horror-obsessed bubble of fandom? Not everyone else watches The Walking Dead and American Horror Story and The River? Not everyone is counting down the days to O’Quinn in the premiere of 666 Park Avenue? Not everyone is cheering as Jessica Lange takes the stage to collect a Golden Globe and a SAG award for her brilliant, chilling performance? Oh.

Scene from The Walking Dead

However, encompassing horror and cross-genre in one, it does seem to be doing fairly well, though it’s been through bouts like this in the past. “Horror has an interesting history and it often comes to prevalence when society is experiencing some turmoil or certain social anxieties,” says Maaren. Shows big on horror like The Twilight Zone and The X-Files came out of societal tension, and Maaren says that the current horror cycle has been building since 9/11. For horror fans like myself, we love it. But bad news: It won’t last for long, both Maaren and Gudiño agree. As Maaren bittersweetly puts it, “It will probably eventually peak, but it will come back again. It always does.”

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