Track the companies that matter to you. It's FREE! Click one of these fan favorites to get started: Apple; Google; Ford.



American Horror Story: Coven Does These 4 Things Right

Don't let it get away!

Keep track of the stocks that matter to you.

Help yourself with the Fool's FREE and easy new watchlist service today.

Fox (NASDAQ: FOX  ) /FX's American Horror Story: Coven returned this week with its 10th episode, The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks. The episode attracted 3.49 million viewers -- down from the 5.54 million viewers its gruesome season premiere attracted, but still the highest-rated cable program for Wednesday nights.

Unlike many other shows on TV, which lose their luster after the first season, American Horror Story's quality improves with every subsequent season.

Stevie Nicks visits the coven. (Source: author's screenshot)

What makes American Horror Story: Coven -- from Glee and Nip/Tuck creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk -- such a treat to watch? Let's take a look at 4 key things that the show absolutely nails.

1. Self-contained seasons with recurring actors

American Horror Story stays fresh every season by making every 12- to 13-episode season a self-contained story arc. There are no season finale cliffhangers.

Instead, every season of American Horror Story resembles a 13-episode-long installment of The Twilight Zone, in which recurring actors from the previous seasons return as different characters. Each season focuses on a well-known horror motif -- a murder house, an asylum, and witches -- and expands upon it.

The first 3 seasons of American Horror Story. Source: FX.

By focusing on recurring actors rather than recurring characters, the show's writers are free to kill off characters during a season and allow them to come back in the next season as someone else. That unique quality of the show also gives the cast a chance to play a wider variety of characters.

This strategy of self-contained seasons keeps the show fresh, letting new viewers hop on and off between seasons while retaining a serialized format. Such a format, also seen in shows like AMC's (NASDAQ: AMCX  ) Breaking Bad and Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) /ABC's Lost, unlocks deeper storytelling opportunities than the procedural "monster of the week" format that other shows follow.

2. It doesn't pull its punches

American Horror Story's writers have never shied away from controversy.

In the first season, a mother punishes her daughter, who has Down's syndrome, by locking her in a room of mirrors. In the second season, a patient who may or may not be the real Anne Frank gets lobotomized by a Nazi doctor.

"Anne Frank" gets a lobotomy from a Nazi doctor. (Source:

In the third season, the show tops all that madness off by having the infamous Madame LaLaurie bleed her slaves dry for their blood's supposed anti-aging properties.

It would have been easy to go over the edge with any of these situations -- FX's own Nip/Tuck was a prime example of taking things too far in its later episodes -- but American Horror Story manages to consistently push the envelope without bursting it.

3. Top-notch performers

The main reason that American Horror can stay classy in even the most gruesome situations is simple -- it has top-notch talent on board.

Jessica Lange's chameleon-like changes between a mysterious neighbor, a nun, and a queen witch are reasons enough to watch this show season after season.

Other recurring cast members -- such as Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe -- are just as talented, shifting effortlessly between their seasonal characters. Series newcomers, such as Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie, also leave a lasting impression with inspired performances (as seen in the picture below).

Madame LaLaurie's severed immortal head is forced to watch Roots. (Source:

Therefore, American Horror is a series with an utterly absurd plot that is glued firmly together by its highly experienced cast. It's the polar opposite of some other shows, where a feasible plot is turned to mush by untalented actors.

4. Stunning cinematography

Last but not least, the show's cinematography and camera techniques are truly amazing.

From long character trailing shots, fisheye shots, to upside down 360-degree shots, cinematographer Michael Goi creates a surreal atmosphere that fits the show like a glove.

American Horror Story's cinematography is top notch. (Source: author's screenshot)

Goi uses some old school cinematography techniques to create the unique look that now defines the series -- combining film stocks from the 1940s to the 1960s (rather than digital filters) to create the correct look for each time period.

Breaking Bad was another show that looked stunning, thanks to cinematographer Michael Slovis. Both Goi and Slovis know how to use the camera to define their genres -- something that plenty of mainstream shows overlook.

The end result is that American Horror Story and Breaking Bad look far more polished and suited for a theatrical release than most other mainstream TV shows.

What does American Horror Story mean for Fox?

American Horror Story: Coven could boost revenue at Fox's crucial cable network segment this quarter. During Fox's first quarter, which concluded on Sept. 30, its cable networks segment (which includes the FX Networks) posted a 12% year-over-year gain in revenue to $2.8 billion -- which accounted for 40% of the company's total top line.

Fox stated that advertising revenue at these domestic cable channels rose 6% year-over-year, thanks to double-digit growth at the FX Networks, RSNs, and National Geographic Channels. The network didn't break down costs and revenue by individual shows, however.

Considering that American Horror Story: Coven has been the top cable show on Wednesday nights and that it is one of FX's four flagship shows (along with Sons of Anarchy, Justified, and Archer), it's likely that the show will remain a strong source of advertising revenue for Fox. Coven premiered on Oct. 9, so investors should watch Fox's second-quarter cable revenue closely when it reports its earnings on Feb. 3.

Most importantly, American Horror Story boasted a huge 3.8 rating among 18 to 34 year old women last season, making the show a major target for advertisers looking for a large female audience.

A final thought

In closing, American Horror Story is a rare, unique gem on TV, where dull, by-the-numbers procedurals have become all too common.

Thanks to its self-contained seasons, I believe that the show will stay fresh and its top-notch cast and crew will continue finding new ways to shock and disturb us.

After all, the next season is already rumored to take place in a circus -- and who doesn't love horrifying clowns?

What's next?

Want to figure out how to profit on business analysis like this? The key is to learn how to turn business insights into portfolio gold by taking your first steps as an investor. Those who wait on the sidelines are missing out on huge gains and putting their financial futures in jeopardy. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you what you need to get started, and even gives you access to some stocks to buy first. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2014, at 11:06 PM, IainElliott wrote:

    I don't think that the impact of American Horror Story has been all that positive. Wicca has been a cultural movement for fifty years or more, and has sought to rehabilitate witchcraft by seeking its roots in pre-Inquisition religious practice. By the 1990's, people were beginning to reconsider some of the centuries-old distortions and disinformation concerning positive Craft practice. American Horror Story has turned back the clock on public understanding.

Add your comment.

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 2790250, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 8/27/2015 8:39:58 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Leo Sun

Leo has covered the crossroads of Wall Street and Silicon Valley since 2012. Follow him on Twitter for more updates!

Today's Market

updated Moments ago Sponsored by:
DOW 16,654.77 369.26 2.27%
S&P 500 1,987.66 47.15 2.43%
NASD 4,812.71 115.17 2.45%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

8/27/2015 4:00 PM
FOX $27.93 Up +0.44 +1.60%
Twenty-First Centu… CAPS Rating: ***
AMCX $72.79 Up +3.07 +4.40%
AMC Networks CAPS Rating: ****