Television: American Horror Story Format

My dad is 62 years old. He really likes American Horror Story, but he can't quite wrap his brain around why the story changes every season. I think it's even more confusing for him that a lot of the actors are the same, but none of the characters are.

And it's not like my dad is some doddering old man. He's actually (literally, quantifiably) a genius. But no other television shows do what AHS does. I mean, shows like The Twilight Zone did a new story each week, and then of course most shows are ongoing serials that don't do "fruitbasket turnover" after each season ends. Even crime-of-the-week shows keep the same core characters throughout their runs (assuming they aren't killed off). I guess the closest thing might be reality shows that spend all season in one location and/or with one team of contestants . . . But my dad doesn't watch those. And after using his amazing intellect all day, when my dad comes home and chills out with a mojito (his drink of choice) in front of the telly, he likes things to not require too much extra thought. Which explains why he watches a lot of sitcoms and mindless horror. And yes, a few procedurals that he has figured out by the first commercial break, but whatever. What I'm saying is he doesn't want to have to think about why this show just changed everything for no clear reason.

Anyway, in an attempt to put it into perspective for him, I used these metaphors to explain the way AHS handles each season as a separate story:
  • It's like a community theatre. You see the same actors over and over but they change up which plays their doing.
Except my dad doesn't really go to the theatre much. He's more of a reader. So:
  • It's like an anthology. Each season is a story. They're all the same genre but not one big novel.
That seemed to work. Dad reads a lot of Stephen King, after all. Loves Night Shift.

It's actually a pretty neat idea, when you think about it. The actors get a certain amount of security (the ones that get to come back anyway), plus the chance to do a lot of different roles. The writers, too, get to try a bunch of new things. Alas, it can cost a bit more when you're not keeping the same standing sets for multiple years, but if the ratings hold . . .

And here's another place where this format wins—or loses, depending. I actually tried watching the first season of AHS, but after three episodes was not engaged enough to keep tuning in. But when I heard the second season would be completely different (to coin Monty Python), I thought: Why not give it another shot? And the second season kept me interested.

But this can work in reverse, too. Someone who enjoyed one season may find the next unappealing and therefore drop the show.

AHS doesn't seem to suffer for any lack of viewers, however. If people are checking out, just as many are checking in. So this format is working for them.

I wonder in what other ways it could be applied?

A seasonal crime story? Think how much better something like Twin Peaks might have been if, instead of trying to keep the plot going, they'd just finished the Laura Palmer thing and started the next season with some other mystery to solve.

What about nighttime soaps? A new Desperate Housewives-type neighborhood each season? (Though this would require new cast members each season also.)

Could you do this with a sitcom? Focus on an apartment building filled with quirky residents and spend one season with each apartment?

It's kind of fun to think about.

Just don't tell my dad. He spends enough of his time thinking not to want to have to wrap his brain around a more complicated TV program.

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