Fright Night


As in dozens of
similar programs, a
reality show’s self-absorbed,
pampered stars
are locked in a staged
house with multiple cameras
capturing their every move.

When one of the contestants
realizes all the cameras have
been mysteriously switched off,
he gathers the rest of the cast to
investigate. They open the door
that leads to the outside studio,
only to be met by a flesh-eating
zombie who barges in to take
a bite out of one of their housemates.

A bloody TV executive grabs a
fire extinguisher and bashes the
zombie in the head until its skull
is crushed. She then relays news
to the rest of the cast: A plague
has turned everyone in the outside
world into livingdead
zombies and the
contestants are virtual prisoners
in the studio house.

Multichannel Cover art Oct. 18, 2010

So goes the premise of IFC’s
upcoming six-part series Dead
, one of several original cable
shows derived from the emerging
horror genre. Already a major
force at the box office, with
the success of the Twilight and
Resident Evil franchises, horrorthemed
content — with is assorted
collection of grizzly monsters,
blood-thirsty (and sexy) vampires,
carnivorous werewolves
and dangerous zombies — is
looking to suck in audiences
through the original series genre.

A pair of zombie-based dramas
— AMC’s The Walking Dead and
IFC’s Dead Set, both of which will
launch later this month — are
prowling for the same success
in both scaring and entertaining
that HBO’s
vampire-feast series True Blood
has enjoyed over its three-season


On the movie side, MTV later
this month will debut the telepic
My Super Psycho Sweet 16 Part
, a sequel to its successful teen
screamer that debuted last year to
848,000 total viewers — the network’s
strongest rating in the time
period in over a year and a half.

Even Nickelodeon will look to
put a fun little scare in its tween
and teen audience with the Oct. 23
premiere of its new original film
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, starring
Victoria Justice (Victorious).

For real horror enthusiasts, the
Oct. 1 linear-network launch of
FearNet — owned by Comcast,
Sony Pictures Television and
Lionsgate — and NBC Universal’s
Chiller offer to
scare viewers on a 24-hour basis.

TV viewers weary from the real-
life horrors of high employment
numbers, poor
economic news and
the worries of war
are looking for the
escapist thrills
and chills that
the horror genre
provides, cable-network
executives said.

“It’s not surprising that
cable is looking to find ways
and attract viewers are looking
at the horror genre more
seriously,” FearNet president
and general manager Peter Block said.
“There’s a very hungry and sociable
audience there that’s looking
for good programming.”

Audiences have been watching
horror content in the movie
theatres since the early 1900s,
with the silent vampire film Nosferatu
(1922). The chills continued
through the ’30s and ’40s with
such classic screamers as Frankenstein
(1931) and The Wolf Man
(1941) and the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s
with slasher films like Halloween
(1978) and A Nightmare on Elm

More recently, the genre has
been paced by the zombie-driven
Resident Evil franchise
— the third movie in the
trilogy having generated
$58 million since its Sept. 10 release;
the torturedriven
Saw series ($728
million worldwide at the box
offi ce through six films); and the
vampire-themed Twilight franchise,
which has garnered more
than $1.3 billion over three theatrical

Now cable is trying to draw
those horror-movie fanatics to
cable with a fright fest of original
series, looking to capitalize
on the escapist feeling the genre
provides viewers during uncertain
socioeconomic times.

“Horror has the build-up and release
of a roller coaster ride, and in
a world where everyone’s lives are
busier than ever and littered with
stress, activities and distractions,
horror just allows people to sit down
and get into a completely immersive
experience,” Chiller executive
vice president of programming and
movies Thomas Vitale said. “When
you’re involved in a horror movie,
you don’t feel your BlackBerry

The four-year old, 40 millionsubscriber
Chiller has found an
audience among avid horror fans
with classic series such as The X Files
and The Twilight Zone, as
well as major-studio horror films
like Return of the Living Dead and
the Masters of Horror franchise.
Vitale said the network will develop
its first original special this
December, a look at the top 13
greatest moments in horror movies
during this decade, as well as
its first original movie, The Passenger,
in 2011.

Among the new horror series,
most prominent is AMC’s The
Walking Dead
, an adaptation the
graphic novels by Robert Kirkman
that tell of a post apocalyptic
world run amok by zombies.

Joel Stillerman, the network’s
senior vice president of programming,
production and digital content,
said the network home of
Emmy Award-winning drama series
Mad Men and Breaking Bad
is hoping to build on the appeal
and fascination of horror content
to create the first zombie-themed
television series.

AMC will bow The Walking
on Halloween night
(Oct. 31), as part of its annual
“Fearfest” marathon of acquired
horror movies. The movie stunt —
which had been known for years
as “Monsterfest” — is perennially
the channel’s most popular.

“If you’re human, you can’t
help but contemplate some form
of apocalyptic meltdown, and
the zombie apocalypse is kind of
an entertaining version of that,”
Stillerman said. “The end of the
world is a fascinating concept
that writers have been trying to
tackle for years.”

Cable has been trying to tackle
the horror genre in earnest since
1995, when HBO debuted the horror
anthology series Tales From
the Crypt
. Other industry efforts
include Showtime’s Masters of
anthology series in 2005.


Recently, HBO’s True Blood has
been cable’s standard bearer for
the genre, with its eclectic mix of
vampires, werewolves, erotica
and drama. The series, based on
author Charlaine Harris’ Sookie
Stackhouse novels and starring
Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer,
has been scary good for the
pay network: With DVR and replays
factored in, the series averaged
12.9 million viewers during
its just-completed third season,
behind only HBO’s all-time juggernaut,
The Sopranos.

More impressively, the series
drew nearly the same amount of
men and women viewers, putting
to rest the assumption that horror
only appeals to young male viewers.
HBO Entertainment president
Sue Naegle said that the
series’ success is based first and
foremost on the broad appeal of
the series’ drama — crafted by
executive producer Alan Ball,
the writer behind Six Feet Under
and Oscar-winning theatrical
film American Beauty — as
much as by the bloody, oftengraphic
portrayal of the netherworld
creatures in the series.

“It’s an Alan Ball show told
through the prism of the [horror]
genre,” she said. “It’s a show
about star-crossed lovers in a
small town, which serves as a
great dramatic touchstone, but
it also happens to have vampires
who walk among us.”

FearNet’s Block said shows like
True Blood transcend the genre,
which makes it more appealing to
a broader audience. “What makes
any genre work is a great story, and
True Blood is about people living
full lives — if it was just about the
vampiristic part and what happens
when they’re out at night, it’s not as
interesting,” he said. “You can put
that show in any kind of setting and
it could work as a western or a war
show or a police procedural. What
makes it interesting is the settings
that HBO has taken.”

Of course, there’s also an audience
for traditional macabre content
that FearNet hopes to serve.
Available online and on-demand
since launched as a full-fledged network on Oct. 31, although network
offi cials would not say how
many subscribers the network is
currently in front of.

Since 2006, FearNet has
reached 28 million video-ondemand
subscribers with a mix
of original content and classic
films such as Night of the Living
and Wishmaster. Block,
who serves as executive producer
of the Saw movie franchise,
said horror fans represent nearly
all demographic groups are a very
devoted to the genre and will support
quality programming, which
should make such programming
appealing to advertisers.

“What the networks are going
to learn is that this audience is
very devoted, very loyal and very
social,” he said.


IFC is hoping that miniseries
Dead Set’s mix of zombie horror
and comedy will appeal to a broad
range of viewers. The U.K. import
chronicles a zombie outbreak that
virtually imprisons a group of
reality show participants inside
a Big Brother-esque house. IFC
general manager Jennifer Caserta
Priore said that while Dead Set
pokes fun at the genre, horror
content provides networks with
an opportunity to reach an untapped
audience looking for quality
programming fare.

“It’s not something that’s necessarily
new, but it’s growing in
popularity and there’s this greater
appreciation for it among viewers,”
Caserta said. “The cable
industry strives to present quality
programming that’s new and different
and speaks to the interests
of its viewers, so why wouldn’t we
cover the genre?”

Added AMC’s Stillerman:
“Horror has a huge following and
it’s not traditionally super-served
by television — I think it’s a great
form of entertainment that deserves
a slightly broader platform
that TV can provide.”