The Big Six are getting ready to unleash a slew of skeins designed to scare the hell out of viewers.
With ABC’s creepy-crawly drama “Lost” already a ratings hit, next year promises to bring at least three new network dramas designed to produce chills.
Next month, Fox unleashes “Point Pleasant,” a sort of “Omen” meets “The OC” centered around a teen girl whose dad just happens to be Satan. Also in January, Glen Gordon Caron (“Moonlighting”) returns to TV with “Medium,” which features Patricia Arquette as a psychic cop who sees dead people.
And later this season, NBC will unleash “Revelations,” a six-hour end-of-days biblical thriller that could become a series.
Webheads are forging ahead with scream machines even though the genre’s track record on the small screen is, well, scary.
“That whole thing about comedy being the hardest thing is true, but doing scary television is also pretty difficult,” says former “X-Files” exec producer Frank Spotnitz.
Indeed, except for “The X-Files,” there have been few successful straight-ahead spine-tinglers on network TV in the past decade.
The producers behind “The Blair Witch Project” tried to translate their style to the small screen with “Freakylinks,” but it bombed. Ditto shows such as “Wolf Lake,” “American Gothic” and “Prey,” not to mention “X-Files” spinoff “Millennium.”
And while movie auds seem to flock to any title in a horror franchise — ergo, “Jason X” — brand names don’t guarantee success in TV. Two reinventions of “The Twilight Zone” have failed in the past two decades, while a remake of “Dark Shadows” couldn’t get past the pilot stage at the WB earlier this year.
Compared with horror features, “It’s doubly hard to do something scary when it’s on a TV (production) schedule and a TV budget,” Spotnitz argues. The producer remains committed to bringing back scary TV, however: He’s developing a new take on “The Night Stalker,” the cult classic that inspired Chris Carter to create “X-Files.”
Former ABC drama chief Thom Sherman, who developed “Lost,” believes making primetime fright-time is tough because audiences aren’t as willing to suspend disbelief with a weekly skein.
“There’s no real natural franchise to a horror show,” says Sherman, who now runs “Lost” exec producer J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Prods. “People want to step into the shoes of characters who live in a real world place. The LAPD doesn’t have a horror crimes division.”
TV producers also can’t simply resort to the blood-and-guts formula that packs ’em in at the multiplex.
For one thing, most advertisers don’t want to hawk their wares in shows filled with bloody corpses. Audiences can also grow bored with shows that feature nothing but the cheap frights many horror features serve up so successfully.
“It’s very easy to go, ‘boo,’ but if you go ‘boo’ all the time, it becomes routine,” says NBC exec VP Ghen Maynard. “Stabbing someone in the heart doesn’t work on TV.”
Not to mention that in this era of FCC scrutiny, some things could have a tough time getting by network censors.Most TV series also can’t match the big budget special effects viewers are used to seeing on the bigscreen.
“Because you don’t have a lot of time or a lot of money, it becomes about scaring people with what they can’t see (and) leaving things to their imagination,” says Spotnitz.
“Lost” has used just that formula to find success this season, and the new breed of scary skeins seems to be taking a similar tact. Rather than emulate the “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th” franchises, nets are hoping to tap into the aud that made moody thrillers like “The Ring” and “The Grudge” big hits.
No surprise then that Dawn Parouse, one of the exec producers of “Point Pleasant,” says her show plans to stay far away from the monster-of-the-week format.
“One of our rules is you’ll never see latex in this show,” she says. “There aren’t going to be people in makeup for a long time. The subtle stuff is much scarier.”