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Horror on TV: Is the Bubble About to Burst?

publicity still of Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore for Bates Motel

I’ve written a lot about horror on television and the boom we’ve been seeing over the past six years. Most of what I’ve had to say is pretty optimistic. I think the age of the TV remake has turned out surprisingly well and the TV slasher—which shouldn’t have worked at all—has actually turned out pretty great.

The content we have right now is unbelievable. There’s something for almost everyone, just like there is when horror is at its strongest in theaters. The most successful show with the most rabid fan base is a zombie show, of all things, and it even has a spinoff to boot. On top of that we’ve got American Horror Story, Scream, The Exorcist, From Dusk Till Dawn, Slasher, Dead of Summer, Freakish, Channel Zero and so many more. These are all very good signs.

But, like I said, this is the content we have right now. And the more I think about it, the more I have to wonder if we’ll have the same kind of content a few years from now—or even half as much of it.

Let’s look at our two biggest examples of horror on TV right now. American Horror Story, a series fans have gone nuts over from the very beginning, seems like it could be ending as early as next season. The Walking Dead has probably three years left in it. That may sound like a lot, but there was a time when people were very seriously, unironically talking about that show going on forever.

The killer attacks the sheriff in Scream episode 9

Even Supernatural, a show that feels like it has gone on forever, is ending.

These are our two staples, though. When all else fails, these will still be the two most likely horror shows to remain on the air. American Horror Story and Walking Dead were incredibly successful shows right out of the gate. More importantly, they remained that way.

It’s all of the other shows I’m worried about. Because while most of the new horror series we’re seeing start off incredibly well, it’s very rare that they stay that way. Hannibal had a remarkably strong debut, but only wound up lasting three seasons. Scream had a strong start as well, but its numbers have continued to drop. It’s been renewed for only six episodes and it’s almost assured that those six will be its last.

Slasher 2016Slasher does not seem to be returning for a second season. Bates Motel is gearing up for its fifth and final season. The horror series we’ve been used to for the past few years are disappearing and while there are a few new shows popping up to replace them, they don’t seem to be enough to be able to keep the trend going.

Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing more than to see the current boom of TV horror continue for years to come. But as more and more shows come to their end, it seems less and less likely.

Of course, there will always be horror on television. We’ve never been without it. It was there throughout the 2000s, the ‘90s, the ‘80s and even further back than that. But what we’re in now seems like a renaissance. There’s so much going on all at once. This amount of content is amazing, incredibly exciting to me as a fan, but I do wonder if it can be sustained.

American Horror StoryFor a while, it was. But now it feels as though that bubble might be about to burst. There are new shows being created, but they’re not appearing fast enough to replace those we’re losing. That might be a good thing, in the long run. We don’t want to find ourselves watching series that were clearly rushed out the gate to fill a time slot. It’s about making a good show above all else. If we have to have fewer titles on TV in order to sustain that quality, then that is simply what we’ll have to live with. It’s better than being surrounded by stories that don’t feel authentic or well-crafted.

And that’s probably what we were in for if the bubble continued to grow any bigger than it already had. It’s a miracle as it is that there are several series on the air right now that are of amazing, upstanding quality.

Walking Dead season 7Even the ones that are simply fun are great. Not everything has to be a masterpiece to be a truly enjoyable show that we love viewing from week to week or binging all at once. But series like Stranger Things are truly artistic. It’s amazing that we’re even seeing anything like it right now.

Horror always moves in cycles. The remake craze came to an end, even if people still want to insist that it didn’t. The found footage craze died down to the point where Blair Witch couldn’t even make its mark on the box office. The TV horror renaissance will move in the same direction, whether it happens sooner or later.

But then again, there are more platforms for distributing content than ever before. Networks like SyFy and Chiller continue to produce their own content, but we also have streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon doing the same.

If genre-specific services like Shudder truly take off, I could see them doing the same. If that’s the case, the TV boom could continue to expand for years to come. In the end, it will be determined as it always has been: by the viewer.

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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