(WARNING: STORY CONTAINS SPOILERS) The status of American Horror Story leads Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and the Golden Globe-nominated Jessica Lange remains in flux in the wake of the FX horror hour’s season one finale last night. But if Britton, McDermott, Lange or supporting player Frances Conroy return to the show for a second campaign, it will be as entirely different characters in a brand new storyline featuring a fully (or at least mostly) new cast. Co-creator and exec producer Ryan Murphy and FX president and GM John Landgraf laid out for reporters during a conference call this morning that Horror Story was packaged from the start as a seasonal anthology. “The (haunted) house is done,” Murphy stressed. “Every season of the show will be a different haunting. That’s always been the plan. Every season of the show will have a beginning, middle and end, and all new characters and setting.” But that doesn’t mean that this year’s performers won’t be back. It’s just that McDermott and Britton won’t be starring as Ben and Vivien Harmon, respectively, nor Lange as creepy neighbor Constance Langdon. It would have been tough to pull that off, anyway, since the Harmons all were dead by the time the season drew to a close.
“We’re still negotiating with a handful (of the cast members) about returning,” Murphy said. “We’re also meeting with new actors whom we’ve targeted roles for. I will say that Connie and Dylan will not be playing the leads of the show in the second season. We’d love for them to come back and do something, maybe a smaller role or a cameo.” The word during the first season of AHS was that the leads had one-year contracts, though Landgraf said today that this wasn’t true of all the players. “We make longterm deals as a matter of course,” he noted. “We haven’t yet picked up the option on anyone.” The show’s second season will eschew the haunted house approach that proved so successful during the freshman season. Murphy insists, “There are all kinds of different American horror stories to tell. There are serial killing stories, prison stories, true crime stories…Each year of the show is designed to be a little miniseries unto itself. The only thing we’re not open to doing is a season on vampires.”
The unique plan to essentially gut a show and start from scratch every season with new characters and storyline carries plenty of risk for American Horror Story considering its popularity. Since premiering in October, it has been the number one new scripted series on basic cable in adults 18-34 and generated by far the highest ratings for a first-year show on FX since the network started doing originals roughly a decade ago. Asked if he was concerned about starting over after enjoying such success and potentially alienating viewers, Murphy replied, “Yes, we’ve thought of that. We too loved those characters and will mourn them and miss them. But the aspects of the show that people love, including the mystery and love story, will be there, albeit with new actors and characters. But you know, this has always been the plan from day one. We just weren’t interested in doing another season with those people trapped in the house…I’ve always wanted to do a kind of Mercury Theater approach, with a (rotating cast) and each year do kind of like a little novella.”
The other advantage in casting the series as a yearly anthology, Murphy added, is that it increases the potential talent pool of performers. “There are a lot of actors who have their own careers and don’t want to make a five-year commitment. This gives people who haven’t done TV before an opportunity. Our shooting schedule is like three or four months every season, so it’s like commiting to a film really. I get a lot of calls from film actors who want to dabble in TV but don’t know how to do it. Being on a series where all of the characters’ stories are done after a season is a way in for them. That’s been the plan from the beginning with this show.”
Landgraf said that the series will again premiere in the fall for season two (late September or early October 2012), calling AHS “a great fall Halloween show. The intent on the network side is for it to become a Halloween tradition for people who love the genre.” He also expressed that he’d had “complete optimism” in the series from the outset despite its bold concept and atypical setup. “I was very confident from the beginning that it would work. And the idea of starting from Ground Zero and rebuilding the entire show every season is exciting.”