American Horror Story proved Hollywood can pull off a weekly horror drama on cable. Can ABC do the same with The River, given the much higher ratings bar set for a broadcast network?
The producers have their heads in the right place. At the show’s press tour panel in Pasadena today, executive producer Michael Green promised, “We know all the pitfalls [of a serialized show] and do not want to fall into them. Each episode is a stand-alone horror film. We looked more to X-Files than to shows like Lost. We’re going make each one of them a little jewel.”
The show’s dangers are not all supernatural. The River (set in the Amazon following an expedition to find a missing documentary filmmaker) will feature all manner of threats. “It’s the Amazon, there’s more than ghosts to be scared of,” Green said. “There’s an endless number of things that can hurt you.”
Yet a staple of horror films is that characters die — or there’s no real sense of threat. A trait of successful broadcast shows is to keep characters around as long as possible, since viewers become attached to them. Ryan Murphy came up with a crafty solution on AHS by having deceased characters regularly continue as ghosts on the show. But for The River, will there be a lot of actor turnover?Producers assured that, like with the balance between serialized and self-contained episodes, they understand that characters need to die — just not carelessly. “We won’t remove people needlessly just for the gag,” Green said. “My philosophy in TV is to treat every script like it’s your last because chances are it will be.”
Great answers. Still, one issue for some viewers will be The River‘s “found footage” handheld-camera style, which includes characters in the show serving as the camera crew. A critic at the panel had it right when he said the device works better for a 90-minute movie (like The River exec producer Oren Peli’s own Paranormal Activity) than a weekly TV show. And having surveillance cameras set up in a house (like in the Paranormal films) just seems more natural than having characters grabbing cameras to capture every key conversation and moment of peril in the wild jungle terrain.
“We didn’t try to be overly cute about it,” Green said. “In a way it makes it feel more improvisational, a lot scarier.”
The River premieres Feb. 7.