Eye on Emmy: How FX's American Horror Story Pushed the Miniseries Envelope to the Max

American Horror Story Emmy Nominations 2012Ryan Murphy, who with Brad Falchuk created American Horror Story, has but one directive for any TV Academy members who are iffy about putting the anthology series on Emmy’s short list.

Don’t. Be. Scared.

Invited to pen an overture to the skeptical voter, “I would just say to not let the word ‘horror’ throw you,” Murphy offers. “Don’t let it turn you off of something that I feel is a really emotional journey.”

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Dylan McDermott, one of the FX hit’s Season 1 leads, echoes that sentiment, saying that while there might be an inclination to dismiss the miniseries’ maiden campaign as “just a horror show,” “If you look deeper into it, you realize the scripts and the acting and the production value and the very idea of this is special. If you’re a voter, you really do have to take it seriously and look under the gloss.”

“Yes, it is sort of a horror story,” Murphy allows, “but it’s almost a feminine horror story. It’s emotional, and it reaches its conclusions in a very cool way.”

But before we talk conclusions, let’s go back to the beginning.

Before there was Glee, there was abject horror.

It was almost four years ago — prior to the debut of Murphy’s musical dramedy for Fox — when he and Falchuk first batted around the idea for what would eventually be American Horror Story. An amalgamation of spine-tinglers such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining and envisioned as a deeply dark exploration of infidelity, the envelope-pushing anthology series revolves around Ben (McDermott) and Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton), a husband and wife who, with teen daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) in tow, relocate from Boston to Los Angeles. The move represents a way to escape a difficult couple of years during which Vivien had given birth to a stillborn baby, and Ben, a shrink, engaged in an affair with a nubile psychiatry student.

In other words, it’s really the stuff of any number of fractured family dramas, until you add in the extremely haunted house into which the Harmons move and the robust roster of restless spirits still residing within its walls — all determined to lure the new owners to grisly fates not unlike their own.

A recipe of copious amounts of Karo syrup, a toothy “infantata” and an American Horror Story Emmy Nominations 2012ominous figure clad in a rubber suit might not whip up traditional Emmy bait. But that wasn’t Murphy’s plan.

“I never go into anything with that [intent],” he says. “I just thought that what we were doing was unique and original, and I thought that people would really love the concept. Then once we attracted the cast that we did — Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Frances Conroy … Pretty much all of our first choices and a very sort of cool group of people — I thought, ‘There is something here.’ You can always tell if something is fresh if you can attract a certain level of talent.”

RELATED | Emmys 2012: The Movie/Miniseries Race in Review, Including Our Dream Nominees

For most everyone in the cast, Horror Story marked their first time working with Murphy and Falchuk. And considering what the creators were about to ask them to do in the name of spinning this sometimes-unseemly saga, a frightening amount of trust needed to be earned and bestowed. [CONTINUE TO NEXT PAGE: ‘THE PENTAGRAM OF TRUST’]

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  1. Sam says:

    Ryan Murphy shows are special alright. They take wonderful actors (Darren Criss, Lea Michele, Connie Britton) and put them in roles that are either obnoxious or bland. Murphy is a sucker of talent.

    • DL says:

      Did you even watch AHS? The show had some phenomenal roles. Violet Harmon, Tate, and Constance were some of the best characters of the television season, and all three actors turned in incredible performances. Lange deserves all the gobs of attention she’s getting for the show, but I’d also really love to see some more buzz for Evan Peters as Tate.

    • ... says:

      “They take wonderful actors (Darren Criss)” LOL. Really? Out of all the talented actors that have worked with Ryan Murphy you listed Darren Criss? And you listed him first?

      • dude says:

        LOL this! I would have put Naya Rivera, Jane Lynch, Mike O’Malley hell, even Chris Colfer (who I think is way over-hyped) before Darren Criss.

      • B says:

        I don’t think it’s possible for there to be anything posted on this website that doesn’t inevitable lead to someone mentioning Glee in the comments. It’s everywhere!

  2. AJ says:

    I really enjoyed this show. Sherlock will win the category though.

  3. Tommy says:

    I have to admit I was enthralled by the show. Not since “Buffy” have I been this addicted to a show… Personally I’m hoping for Emmy gold and not just for Lange.

    • AJ says:

      I agree Lange is hands down the best actress in a Mini-series. I don’t think it can win the category with Sherlock in there though.

  4. Lee says:

    I don’t see how the Emmys can take AHS seriously when it was mostly special effects filled with horror and actors in soap opera situations. I just never felt AHS fully developed its characters. Maybe they didn’t have the time because they were too busy filling it with special effects. But it would’ve been nice to understand the characters better. Why did Ben have an affair with the college student? Was it because his wife gave birth to a stillborn baby? Obviously this stillborn baby was an accident because what parents want to go through child rearing all over again when they’re about to send off their daughter to college? What were the ramifications of this “accident”? I hope Season 2 does a better job developing its characters.

  5. michael says:

    A feminine horror story is not a unique concept. Take torture porn out of the picture and it almost always is favourable to women as a genre. (Scream, Alien, Halloween, ext.) In fact that’s over half of the demographic that watches horror.I love AHS but RM is not exactly breaking the mold here.

    • Miranda says:

      Alien was most certainly favourable to men, not women. Scream was definitely feminine. But I disagree that more of the demographic is women.

  6. Larry says:

    Julianne Moore should win for Game Change as Actress in a TV Movie/MiniSeries.

  7. mia says:

    This struggle is one that genre tv has been having for years now, AHS’s “struggle” isn’t something new.
    If the Emmy academy is going to throw a bone to a genre show, I’d rather it be Fringe which is far superiour to AHS (and yes, I watch both)

  8. Gerald says:

    Ryan Murphy & Co exaggerate so much, I mean the show is good but excellent as he is making it appear. It nothing special, just a carbon copy of many things that have been done before. What makes it stand out is Jessica Lange and her character.

  9. tim says:

    I have to say that the horror is really brutal especially the second episode of home invasion but what comes after with the halloween episodes — you get some of the best acting you can possibly get from every single actor and a culmination that makes it all so good.

  10. h. says:

    The show had potential but lost its way pre rubberman. The only two stand outs were the actors playing Violet and Tate.. But Jessica Lange seems to be getting all the buzz, when in fact they deserve it far more.

  11. Matt says:

    I believe Jessica is entered in the supporting actress race so she won’t be up against Julianne Moore.

  12. cheers says:

    Great article, Matt.

  13. jim says:

    Just bring back Alexandra Breckenridge in the same younger, vixenish roll and I’ll be smiling and happy!!