A Terrifying Trend: Network Television Brings New Life to Horror
A Terrifying Trend: Network Television Brings New Life to Horror
Jennifer Lind-Westbrook
Jennifer Lind-Westbrook
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Shows with occult or mystical themes such as The Vampire Diaries, Teen Wolf and the aptly titled Supernatural have been delivering thrills for years. However, the story lines tends to be melodramatic or rely on a fictional mythology.For people who like their horror a little gorier and a tad grittier used to be restricted to premium channels; for example, HBO's True Blood and Showtime's hit Dexter. However, the days of padded cable bills or waiting a year or longer for a DVD release in order to be horrified are coming to an end.

When AMC's The Walking Dead premiered on Halloween 2010, it set in motion a change in the landscape of television. Next came the success of American Horror Story, the first season of which focused on how a haunted house affected an already marginally dysfunctional family. Just as American Idol gave birth to The Voice and The X Factor, network executives are falling all over themselves to churn out programs with the purpose of making viewers double check the locks on their doors each night.

FOX's The Following which debuted in January 2013 had only aired seven episodes before it was renewed for another season. This story of a serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), so enigmatic that he's been able to raise a band of loyal psychotic groupies from behind bars has helped FOX achieve stellar ratings among 18-49 year olds for the season. The show has major plot implausibilities and some strong resemblances to the literary work of Thomas Harris (Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs). This is especially evident when it comes to the antagonist/protagonist relationship. Carroll has a more intimate affinity with ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) than most law enforcement has with the criminals they are pursuing.

However, just because a show has a creepy concept doesn't guarantee success. The CW's attempt at a less mythical more horror-themed breakout hit, which has a journalist investigating mysterious disappearances that appear related to a hit show called Cult has had weak ratings. After only two weeks, the show has moved to Friday night which is often the death knell for shows on the bubble of cancellation.

Off to a strong start, there is a chance The Following could wind up like AMC's The Killing. This murder mystery dragged the investigation of one murder over two seasons and suffered some viewer backlash and boredom as a result. Can Joe Carroll remain the primary antagonist, or will the show take a cue from Dexter and give Ryan Hardy a new adversary during season 2? There are plenty to choose from among Carroll's disciples. It will be interesting to see if The Killing's creators have learned from their mistakes and move away from being a police procedural drama towards a more frightening storyline.

The Following has another threat to its popularity looming ahead; NBC's Hannibal begins airing in April. The character Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a pop culture icon guaranteeing built-in viewers; at least as long as the show doesn't disappoint. However, if fans are expecting the cannibalistic psychiatrist made famous by Anthony Hopkins, they will be disappointed. Hannibal has Lecter partnered with federal agent Will Graham, the man who eventually becomes his captor. The writers of Hannibal aren't entirely in unchartered waters with this prequel since Lecter served as a consultant both Will Graham and Clarice Starling in two of Harris's books.

Video: Introducing Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Graham and Lecter aren't the only Harris characters to become the focus of a television show. According to TV Guide, Lifetime is developing a show about the beguiling Agent Starling tentatively titled Clarice. The show is supposed to follow Starling's life and career after she graduates from the FBI academy. However, news of this addition to Lifetime's female-friendly programming first broke in May 2012 so it could be awhile (if ever) before the show comes to fruition.

Another prequel that can boast some serious pedigree is Bates Motel which premieres March 18 on A&E. The show, a "reimagining" of the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, chronicles the lives of a teenage Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) after they move to a small, coastal Oregon town and open a small motel. After viewing a few minutes that were leaked on to the web, Norman's homicidal tendencies could definitely be genetic.

If you're still not feeling terrified, don't fret; there's still more potential goosebump-worthy programs on the way in the next year. According to TVLine, MTV is developing a series based on the uber popular Scream franchise. In addition, Jonathan Rhys Myers has been cast to play the world's most famous bloodsucker in NBC's period piece Dracula. This one definitely has the potential to be cartoonish rather than chilling. Then again, Danny Elfman gave the film Sleepy Hollow an over-the-top vibe, and it was still spine tingling.

TV networks can be fickle, so if the ratings dip or never materialize for any of these shows, they'll be gone as quickly as NBC's Do No Harm, a modern take on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or ABC's 666 Park Avenue. However, with the popularity of The Walking Dead and The Following and a third season of American Horror Story planned, this new sensation of spooky programming will probably be around for a while.

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(Image courtesy of FOX, A&E, NBC)