True Blood stirs no interest in me, I don’t enjoy The Walking Dead, and my feelings about American Horror Story are deeply mixed, but as a fan of horror TV, I owe something to all three shows. Thanks to them, it’s a great time to be a fan of TV horror–and it’s about to get better.
True Blood’s success, both critical and popular, on the prestige cable network was an unmissable sign to the TV industry that there was an audience for quality horror. The Walking Dead’s popularity–spreading, as it did, like an outbreak–showed just how big that audience could be (viewership of each season premiere was higher than the last, with Season 3’s audience topping 10 million). American Horror Story proved those shows weren’t flukes, or all the audience could bear.
The entertainment industry has seen that televised horror can draw a large, literate, influential audience, not just fans so starved for genre TV that they’ll accept any poorly written, badly acted concoction (how long this will last, though, who can say). As a result, this spring we’ll see a flood of new horror shows on both broadcast and cable. Here’s what to expect:
AMC, Mondays at 10
Debuts: March 18
This prequel to the much more famous exploits of Norman Bates comes to us from Carlton Cuse (Lost) and stars Vera Farmiga as cuddly old Norma Bates and Freddie Highmore as young Norman. The 10-episode first season follows the lives of Norman and his mother, starting in Norman’s teenage years, and offers insight into how he ends up in a bathroom with a wig and a knife (should that have been a spoiler alert? Sorry). Though it carries the same name, it’s not to be confused with the 1987 TV movie (who knew, other than true Psycho fanatics, that such a thing even existed?). Watch for Lost vet Nestor Carbonell (you may remember him better as the immortal Richard Alpert) as the sheriff.
CW, Fridays at 9
Debuted: Feb. 19
This series has been with us a few weeks, but given that it’s on the CW, you’d be forgiven for not having noticed. In it, journalist/blogger Jeff and TV production assistant Skye investigate whether fans of the TV-show-within-the-show, called Cult and aired on the CW, are being inspired by it to commit crimes. Having watched the first episode, it seems like the show is also teasing some interesting metafictional slipperiness between the reality of the “real” world the show takes place in and the world within the TV series the characters watch. The first episode wasn’t terribly good, but the hint of unstable reality is intriguing. Four episodes out of the 13-installment Season 1 have aired so far. Series creator Rockne O’Bannon has written for genre TV staples including The Twilight Zone (1985 edition), Farscape, V (2009 edition), and Amazing Stories (no relation, as far as I know).
Fox, Mondays at 9
Debuted: Jan. 21
Another series already underway, this one created by Dawson’s Creek scribe Kevin Williamson. But don’t let that fool you; Williamson has genre cred. He wrote Scream and Scream 2, Cursed, The Faculty, and I Know What You Did Last Summer (he also created the current CW series The Vampire Diaries). The Following stars Kevin Bacon as an FBI agent brought back into the field to stop the followers of charismatic, erudite, Poe-obsessed serial killer Joe Carroll from carrying out crimes for him while he remains behind bars. I didn’t think much of its debut, but over 10 million people are watching each installment of the 15-episode series and Fox already ordered Season 2, so what do I know?
NBC, Thursdays at 10
Debuts: April 4
Prequels to works about famous killers are a bit of theme in 2013’s horror TV, it seems. You may be able to deduce from the title that this series focuses on everyone’s favorite cannibal, Hannibal Lecter. The 13-episode series (one thousands hosannas to American broadcasters finally realizing that shorter, cable-style seasons can make for better TV) comes from Bryan Fuller, creator of Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies. Mads Mikkelsen takes the title role, with Laurence Fishburne and Gina Torres (Firefly) in support. The series focuses on the relationship between Lecter and FBI profiler Will Graham (later the central figure in Manhunter and its remake Red Dragon; I believe this series is a prequel to that).
Debuts: April 18
At this point in the list, if you’re thinking “enough with the gritty realism and serial killers, where’re the supernatural horror? Where are the creatures?”, then Hemlock Grove is for you. It’s a werewolf thriller starring Famke Janssen, Lili Taylor, and Dougray Scott, based on a novel by Brian McGreevy. McGreevy teams here with first-timer Lee Shipman in making the show (though it is executive produced by Eli Roth of Hostel fame). It’s another of Netflix’s increasingly interesting line of original series, meaning that all 13 episodes should be available for wolfing down come mid-April.
Under the Dome
CBS, Mondays at 10
Debuts: June 24
Talk about putting together some big names. This series pairs Stephen King (using his novel of the same name as source material) with Brian K. Vaughn (co-creator of the Y: The Last Man comic and sometime writer on Lost) to tell the story of a town isolated from the world by the appearance of a clear, but impenetrable, barrier that suddenly surrounds it. Needless to say, the residents want out. The 13-episode season was originally bound for Showtime before ending up at CBS.
And if all that new TV isn’t good enough for you, the reigning triumvirate are all coming back later in 2013. True Blood Season 6 returns to HBO in June, while American Horror Story Season 3 resumes on FX in the Fall. Then, come October, The Walking Dead Season 4 shambles back to AMC.