‘Scream’ Joins TV’s Freak Show: Inside Hollywood’s New Obsession With Blood, Guts and Gore

“TV is redefining the horror genre,” MTV’s head of scripted programming tells TheWrap

Last Updated: July 2, 2015 @ 5:11 PM

TV networks’ recent stab at horror-themed programming is proving to be a screaming success.

Thanks to an uncertain economy that has viewers desperate for an escape, cheaper and more believable special effects, and a rabid social media-savvy fan base, gore-filled shows have quickly become TV’s latest obsession.

“TV is redefining the horror genre,” SVP and head of scripted programming at MTV, Mina Lefevre, told TheWrap. “Everybody loves that thrill ride. You can have a teen soap, romance, anything you want, plus you get that full dose of a horror adrenaline rush.”

Lefevre’s is hoping her latest offering, “Scream,” which debuts on Tuesday, will help lock in some of the young viewers lost to shifts in tastes and technology.

Inspired by the blockbuster Kevin Williamson/Wes Craven film franchise by the same name, “Scream” focuses on a group of high school friends living in a small town rocked by the brutal murder of one of its teenage residents.

In one of the first scenes, a character obsessed with horror films, Noah Foster (John Karna), tells his classmates, “You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV series.” While TV likes to stretch out its plot, he explains, slasher movies are all about killing as many people as 90 minutes will allow.

MTV is betting Foster is dead wrong as the network attempts to turn one of Hollywood’s most successful horror properties into a TV ratings killer.

“Scream’s” first eight minutes:

MTV isn’t the only network in on the horror action. FX’s “American Horror Story,” created and produced by Hollywood’s “It” boy, Ryan Murphy, has become the network’s most-watched program ever. The channel’s other big hit, “The Strain,” about a CDC doctor investigating a mysterious outbreak of vampirism, was the most-watched new scripted series among all basic and pay cable networks in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo last season.

AMC has seen its stock skyrocket thanks to the mother of all horror shows, “The Walking Dead.” The series, about a post-apocalyptic world overrun by flesh-eating zombies, boasts the highest total viewership of any series in cable television history. It’s been so successful, in fact, the network has given a two year commitment to a spinoff, “Fear of the Walking Dead,” slated to premiere later this year.

And A&E’s “Bates Motel,” a contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 “Psycho”, has recently been renewed for two seasons, making it the longest-running original scripted drama in the channel’s history.

On the network side, Fox’s “Wayward Pines,” about a U.S. Secret Service agent investigating the disappearance of two colleagues in small town Idaho, has seen its ratings increase from week to week since it premiered in May. Its last episode drew a 2.4 rating in the key demo and 7.53 million viewers.

Next month, Fox will debut another buzzy Murphy horror/comedy series, “Scream Queens,” starring “Glee’s” Lea Michele and “American Horror Story’s” Emma Roberts.

And while NBC recently announced it will be serving up the last course of its flesh-eating, “Hannibal,” showrunner Bryan Fuller told fans the series could find another venue this summer, with its hungry cannibal perhaps dining a la carte on Amazon or Netflix.

Horror movies have been done to death over the years. So, why are they so successful on television? And why now?

Experts say it’s no coincidence that horror shows started to take off just as the economy began to free-fall.

“Anytime you’re in an era where there is fear and doubt, such as terrorists attacks, global warming, the economy or any situation you have no control over, you tend to see a rise in sci-fi/horror programming,” pop culture expert and journalism professor at University of Southern California Joe Saltzman told TheWrap. “During the ’50s, for example, when everyone was afraid a bomb might be dropped on them at any minute, horror and sci-fi were extremely popular.”

According to Saltzman, when you watch a show like “Hannibal” or “AHS” you see “horrible things happening to main characters. It’s so shocking, people use that as a cathartic way of getting out of their own personal problems.”

Horror shows are also are good at pushing the envelope, an increasingly important commodity in the ever-growing TV landscape. While most TV shows shy away from killing off their star characters, that’s not the case with horror and sci-fi. And that, experts say keeps fans guessing, and more importantly, coming back for more.

“People like to watch other people in extreme situations,” Lefevre said. “There’s a lot of moral ambiguity in the characters’ choices and plot and mystery.”

Advancements in technology are also responsible for the recent spike in blood-soaked shows.

“TV was always second rate when it came to horror,” Saltzman said. “But now almost anybody with a good computer can now come up with these great effects. We’re seeing really beautifully produced shows. These shows are popular because the effects are incredible.”

And while social media has long been a game-changer when it comes to buzzy dramas like “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” it’s having a similar effect when it comes to horror shows.

“When you read a social media post that’s going berserk about an OMG moment that happened on ‘The Walking Dead’ or ‘Hannibal’ you’re going to say, ‘I want to see that,'” said Saltzman.

Those moments may induce nightmares in viewers, but the ratings they spark have producers and TV executives virtually shrieking with delight.

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