How 'American Horror Story: Coven' Changed Television

This week Ryan Murphy's horror anthology American Horror Story wrapped up its third installment with the conclusion of its "Coven" storyline. The drama, which debuted in 2011, has always played by its own rules and each year seems to find a new way to one up itself in shock value. As a result, though, it's always come with a question mark: will audiences respond to it in a positive way? Well, so far so good and it is having a profound effect on the industry.

"American Horror Story: Coven" (Credit: FX)

Game change

FX (a subsidiary of News Corp (NASDAQ: NWS  ) ), knew it was a risk to air this show. The network helped give series creator Ryan Murphy his big break with Nip/Tuck and knew how dark the talented showrunner could get with his material. Yet it was a groundbreaking concept -- how could a network that has "there is no box" as a motto not take a flier on the project?

The idea was simple in that it would be a different self-contained story every year with an "A-list" cast bringing it to life (or death, as the case often has been). With Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, and the incomparable Jessica Lange attached for the first round, FX's decision was looking better with each passing day.

Eventually it not only proved to be a ratings hit, but FX saw a secondary boost in that it was suddenly back in the awards game. While the network has always had stellar programming, it wasn't always recognized. Now Horror was a putting a real fright into category leader HBO.

Because it was a self-contained story, it was eligible for the newly merged "Made For TV/Mini-Series" category at the Emmys, which caused a huge industry stir. Other networks questioned the legality of the entry, but the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences made the right call and the show has earned 17 nominations, with a handful of wins.

"American Horror Story: Murder House" (Credit: FX)

Ratings smash

From the beginning, viewers embraced the unique concept and season one, nicknamed Murder House, averaged around 2.8 million viewers an episode. Yes, the series took a small hit the following year as Asylum fell a bit and netted 2.5 million viewers an episode, but they returned in droves for Coven.

The third mini-series in the Horror anthology is expected to end its run with an average viewership of 4 million. This week's capper snared 4.2 million viewers to be exact and 2.8 million of those fell in the all-important 18-49 demographic advertisers' love. When all is said and done, the episode could be the highest performer yet for the drama.

FX was also quick to note that the mini-series was in the top 20 in the 18-49 demo overall and number five overall when looking just at cable (behind The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and network sibling Sons of Anarchy).

"American Horror Story: Asylum" (Credit: FX)

The Horror business

American Horror Story's success comes at a good time for FX. The network is preparing to say goodbye to Sons later this year and Justified in 2015. At that point it will be FX's most established series and an anchor show that, along with The Americans and The Bridge, will need to help the network continue hold its footing until some of its newer series gain traction with audiences.

Yet the majority of Horror's success rests with its cast. The show can get actors like Lange, James Cromwell, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett because the show is self-contained. The network can lure these big-name film stars to TV because it is appealing to them that it is such a small time commitment and the upside is huge.

FX has literally helped changed the business model and rivals like HBO are beginning to take notice. The network took a page out of FX's playbook and this year launched True Detective. The (mini)-series is also designed to be an anthology and, as a result, was able to attract Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson for the lead roles. It won't be long until other networks update their strategy as well.

Overall, this is a franchise that's proven that short-form series have just as much of a role on TV as long-form and the business impact has already been considerable. The Emmys are now considering separating the "Made-for-TV Movie/Mini-Series" category back into two separate races. This comes after they were unified because the "mini-series" field was seeing fewer and fewer entries.

With the new awards category and the commercial and critical success of American Horror Story, it's likely we'll see the medium continue to evolve. Competitors who don't follow FX's lead might miss out on name actors and Emmys, and could even see a decline in their ad values. Now that would be scary.

The next step

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 (6) | Recommend This Article (5)

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 February 01, 2014, at 5:42 PM, renamoretti wrote:

    I am very sorry to have to tell you this, but you've been snowed. Not only is American Horror Story not "changing television" in any way ,shape or form, but it's also a ratings flop.

    FX is spending a lot of Pr money trying to pass this off as a hit through journalists (and sadly it seems it worked for you) but just look at the actual ratings and you'll see bleeps of higher ratings fueled by ad spending followed by cratering ratings.

    I have no idea why it is so easy to get journalists to endorse any flop, but here it is.

    Frankly, this article is as removed from reality as an Enron financial statement.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 12:50 AM, runarounddennis wrote:

    PS...FX is not longer owned by News Corp. It was spun off into 21st Century Fox. I wouldn't want Brett to touch my money, clearly he doesn't have the "Gold"en touch. He knows as much about media as he does who owns what. Good grief.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 12:54 AM, runarounddennis wrote:

    PSS...ratings hit is also subjective. Anything can be a hit on any network. A hit on one network won't be a hit on another. It all depends on what their rating targets/expectations are. Live numbers don't mean squat anymore. Also C3s are also beginning to become meaningless...C7 is going to be the new currency in television soon enough.

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 9:45 PM, Rosalita wrote:

    I guess we will need to agree to disagree.....I really like that show especially Coven

  • Report this Comment On February 02, 2014, at 11:28 PM, Sabrfan30 wrote:

    I'm with Rosalita. We will have to agree to disagree. Because I, myself; along with all my friends are always having a watch party almost every week when we can. American Horror Story has been #1 since they aired it. And Coven was the absolute best. The stars make this show. Anything with the great Jessica Lange is going to be good. And I don't believe for ONE min. that this show is NOT making a ton of money. People can say what they want. Can't wait to hear what next season's is all about. But I hate Sons of Anarchy is going off the air.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 3:44 AM, Knumpcy wrote:

    I have never watched Walking Dead and could barely sit through this first episode of Breaking Bad. American Horror Story, I did enjoy and hope they continue with Coven in a sense, because there is a story still to be told. After Dexter and now only left with True Blood, cable is no more. I would get better entertainment watching reruns of The Benny Hill Show and The Young Ones. Aside from AHS, American tele is shite.

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: 2820178, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 12/22/2014 2:52:30 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...


Advertisement