‘Scream Queens’ Cast on Modern-Day Horror, Feminism — and Whodunit

How feminist is “Scream Queens”?

“I was raised in feminism, and Wendy Wasserstein would love this show because it’s saying like it is,” said series star Jamie Lee Curtis.

That was the recurring theme of the panel at the Television Critics Assn., as the cast and creators of Fox’s “Scream Queens” gathered at the Beverly Hilton to promote their new comedy-horror series, which is a tentpole of the network’s fall lineup.

Chair and CEO Dana Walden introduced the panel by saying one of her first calls when she got the job last year was to Ryan Murphy, asking him to deliver a project that would get attention. And what he brought them was “Scream Queens,” a 13-episode anthology series set on a college campus.

Murphy said his first move was reaching out to Curtis — the original “Scream Queen” to star. “I have always loved Jamie Lee Curtis,” said Murphy, adding that he didn’t even have a script. “We simply told her what the story was. It was a leap of faith.” He said he wouldn’t have gone forward with the series if she didn’t agree to star, but she called the day after their meeting and agreed to sign on.

Working along with his executive producers Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, Murphy said the show’s success lies in finding the balance of comedy and horror. “Jamie is the original scream queen, but we love to work where she is funny,” said Murphy.

Murphy credited AMC’s “The Walking Dead” with bringing horror back to TV, but dismissed any suggestion of competition with MTV’s “Scream.” “The more the merrier. Tonally the shows are very different,” he said. “Ours is more comedic.”

Much of the comedy comes from social satire, said the cast, which includes Emma Roberts, Lea Michele and Skyler Samuels (among many others). “It strips away the imagined behavior and shows what people really are,” said Curtis.

Roberts’ character (Chanel #1), in particular, has to deliver particularly harsh dialogue. “You have to accept your character and her point of view,” she said. “There are times when I apologize to the girls when cut is called.”

Murphy pointed out that he based Chanel #1 on a manifesto that was released by a sorority when he was writing the pilot. He promised viewers will find out more about the character and how she came to her views. “She does have redeeming qualities,” he promised.

Much of the discussion centered on the Greek system and its relevance today. “It’s hard to look at them now and not seeing them being antiquated,” said Falchuk.

But the show strives to unite the women, rather than divide them. “What’s fun about this show is the girls are much more interested in their friendship with each other than the boys,” said Murphy.

The characters — as well as the actors — are all united in their hunt for the killer. With at least one character being killed off every episode, no one in the cast knows who the killer is. “Every single actor in every scene is given one direction: Do the scene as if you’re the killer,” said Jamie Lee Curtis.

“Scream Queens” has a two-hour premiere on September 22 on Fox.

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