Twenty-first century television horror's terrible places: a roundtable discussion

Jowett, L. (Speaker), Stacey Abbott (Speaker), Rebecca Janicker (Speaker)

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch

Description

The ongoing boom in TV Horror coincides not only with the expansion of TV markets but also with new innovations in delivery platforms, viewing habits, and modes of engagement. In this round table the panellists will initially analyse how three particular examples of TV horror find their home in this new TV landscape by innovating in terms of form and format, before moving on to more general debate about how horror positions itself on television and what might count as TV horror in 2017. In October 2011, a program entitled simply American Horror Story hit the small screen for the first time. Rebecca Janicker sketches out how series co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk were quick to develop a fecund concept into a horror anthology franchise which now comprises six series dedicated to a diverse array of gruesome and shocking scenarios, situated in particular temporal and geographic settings. AHS appeared in what Jason Mittell has described as a growth era for TV and the show’s novel approach to storytelling has served to distinguish it from other horror narratives. AHS combines the mini-series model of a finite run of episodes that culminates in final narrative closure with the traditional TV model of weekly instalments on FX. Unity of theme renders each season a distinct ‘text’ and it is this feature, along with the celebrated recycling of actors, that marks American Horror Story out as a new format for TV horror: an anthology franchise rather than an anthology series. On-Demand streaming service Netflix has fast become a prime site of ‘television’ production and distribution globally, while simultaneously calling into question the nature of TV. Stacey Abbott will identify the ways in which Netflix production Santa Clarita Diet (2017-), an innovative horror-comedy hybrid, transforms and, arguably, undercuts the ubiquitous zombie sub-genre by adapting it to the suburban sit-com format. The series follows Sheila (Drew Barrymore) and Joel Hammond (Tim Olyphant), suburban realtors based in Santa Clarita, California, as they discover that Sheila has become a zombie, with the requisite taste for flesh and blood, as well as an increasingly voracious sex drive but also the desire to maintain her ‘happy’ home. While this is a call out to Golden Age supernatural sitcoms such as The Munsters (1964-66) and The Addams Family (1964-66), its place on Netflix allows it to function fully as horror, and the series' repeated scenes of graphic body horror tip gross out comedy into full on horror. This Netflix production offers an engaging opportunity to consider how the changing nature of television and a burgeoning landscape of new streaming platforms impact upon the presence and evolution of horror for the small screen. Moving even further away from the traditional television series format, Lorna Jowett briefly examines key characteristics of Canadian web series Carmilla (2014-). With three 36-episode seasons (and a season zero), inter-seasonal content, over 35 million YouTube views, and a movie on the horizon, Carmilla is a highly successful digital adaptation or reimagining of Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novella that demonstrates the flexibility of horror or Gothic tropes. The web series also taps into new technologies and new media forms by presenting the narrative as the vlog of university student Laura, and much of its innovation comes from the restrictions of this format. Carmilla unsettles both the notion of the horror monster and the genre convention of the terrible place by repositioning the story and the characters: the contemporary campus culture of the updated setting inflects how the characters--who are almost all non-binary/non-heteronormative in this version--operate within the story. Having offered a snapshot of the changing face of TV horror through these case studies, the panel will expand the debate and address a range of questions, seeking to unpack how a new broadcast landscape affords new 'terrible places' for horror to evolve. Has television become the new home of innovation in horror? What opportunities does television and its various forms and formats offer to horror? Given the centrality of space to horror/Gothic, in what ways does TV horror negotiate this geography? How does the emphasis on characterization found in so-called 'quality TV' impact on horror and its spaces? How do the chosen case studies take advantage of being TV Horror now that television frequently overflows its boundaries to become 'spreadable media'? How do audiences and fans enter and experience TV horror's terrible places? In what ways is the traditional gendering of the horror genre challenged by the boom in horror on TV, historically a domestic media? In debating these questions and areas the round table aims to, at least partly, map the new spaces, terrible and otherwise, that TV Horror has invaded, infected or (re)imagined.
Period27 Oct 2017
Held atAt Home with Horror
Event typeConference
LocationCanterbury, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionRegional

Keywords

  • Television
  • horror
  • Carmilla
  • Santa Clarita Diet
  • American Horror Story
  • anthology horror
  • horror-comedy
  • sitcom
  • webseries