A&E (a joint venture between Disney (DIS 2.07%) and Hearst) has tried to make its mark in the scripted drama world many times over the years, but despite signing top tier talent, it has never been in the cards. Tonight, the network will look to keep up the momentum it gained last year with the launch of Bates Motel, but could still be in for an upward battle.
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho remains a standard bearer of the horror/thriller genre. Audiences will never quite get the film's final acts out of their heads as the famed director did something nobody else was able to do at the time. The decision by A&E to do a prequel series to the film was a genius idea and credit goes to executive producers Kerry Ehrin (Friday Night Lights) and Carlton Cuse (Lost) for figuring a way to make it work in the modern day.
The series premiered last year to 3 million viewers and over half of those were from the all-important 18-49 demographic. Those numbers in the demo were enough to make Bates the most watched drama in the network's history and second most watched new drama premiere on cable in 2013 behind History Channel's Vikings.
But can they hold in season 2? Bates isn't the first show to be renewed by the network. Previous record holder Breakout Kings also snared a second season thanks to its strong numbers, but was pulled after its sophomore run.
A&E knows the lure of the Bates Motel name and the Psycho tie-in gives it something special to work with. Producers have also shown they are committed to the drama by expanding the show's cast in season two to help give them more storylines to work with, including introducing Alias star Michael Vartan as a potential love interest for lead actress Vera Farmiga.
Both Farmiga and Freddie Highmore, who play the well-known Norma and Norman Bates characters, are not just standouts on the show, but in the genre. The two give chilling performances every week and Farmiga was nominated for an Emmy last year for Best Actress, a rarity for the network's scripted fare. That ability comes from how close the pair are off-screen as well as on. Farmiga is so close to her TV son that in real life Highmore is actually godfather to Farmiga's oldest child.
Yet the question remains that even with strong performances and reviews, how long can the show go? Ultimately we know what happens to both Norma and Norman.
After the fact
In order to help expand the show's lifespan and audience this year, A&E also commissioned a live after-show for the season premiere where the series' cast and crew will discuss the first episode and give clues to what may happen down the road.
Bates is the latest to try the after-show approach, which was made successful by AMC and The Walking Dead. In fact Walking's after-show Talking Dead has actually gotten to be so successful it pulls in numbers that are better than some scripted programming on broadcast TV.
Bates doesn't just represent a new way of storytelling, it represents a real and viable foothold for A&E into the original drama market and the network will rightly do everything in its power to keep it around. Executives have faith in the drama and if audiences show the same loyalty they did back in season one, Bates Motel could keep its doors open for some time to come. It's not a given by any stretch, but it's certainly now finally a real possibility.