Fox’s upcoming Scream Queens will be an anthology with a twist.
Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s horror comedy, featuring an all-star cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts and Lea Michele, will burn through its characters with only four of 25 expected to survive the season.
“It’s similar to American Horror Story in that it’s anthological but different in that at the end of the first season there will only be four characters out of 25 left,” Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter following a recent press screening. “And those four in season two will go on to a new horror genre — like a sorority is a horror genre to me, it’s a place where there were horror movies in the ’80s like Sorority Row — and they will go on. That’s the format of the show.”
Murphy, who directed the first hour of Scream Queens’ two-hour premiere (Falchuk helmed part two), said the main difference is that the four surviving characters will continue to play the same character when and if a likely second season is ordered. That’s a major change from American Horror Story, where so far only Lily Rabe has been the only actor to reprise the same character for multiple seasons of the series.
“It’s sort of like a twist on American Horror Story: every season is a new season, a new setting, a new establishment — the difference being you will know some of the characters who will live,” said Murphy, who is also prepping FX anthology American Crime Story, whose first season explores the O.J. Simpson trial. “That’s the fun to me; the reason I love writing it and being a part of it is it’s like an Agatha Christie mystery where every week it’s who’s going to live and who’s going to die. We do kill off a huge amount of people every week. It’s a whodunit at its core.”
Season one of Scream Queens — set to premiere Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. before moving to its regular slot the following week at 9 p.m. — is set on a college campus that’s rocked by a series of murders. Roberts stars as the popular and demanding Chanel Oberlin, the head of sorority Kappa House, with Curtis portraying the anti-sorority dean, Cathy Munsch. Skyler Samuels portrays Grace Gardner, a pledge looking to bring KKT back to its glory days, who teams with Pete (Diego Boneta) the campus newspaper editor to explore the gruesome murders that take place in the first hour and the mysterious Red Devil killer.
“In the first episode, you’ve met the killer and there’s a big clue dropped in the first episode as to who the killer is, so you’d have to go back and really watch it,” says Murphy, who notes that the entire series drops Easter Eggs to horror classics including Heathers, Halloween and Friday the 13th. “But we tell you who it is so you have to figure it out.”
Scream Queens was picked up straight to series at Fox and, Murphy says, landed star Curtis without so much as a script. “I didn’t know her and called her and said, ‘I’m going to be frank with you, if you don’t do the show, we’re not doing it,'” Murphy recalls of cold-calling the actress. “We had no script, didn’t have a deal with her and didn’t even know her. We pitched this to her and she said she’d do it without reading a script.”
As it turns out, Murphy — and Falchuk — were huge fans of Curtis and says Scream Queens will pay homage to all the horror cult films like Halloween — which Murphy confesses he watches annually as part of AMC’s seasonal marathon.
“We’re paying tribute to all the things we loved as kids: Heathers, Halloween, Friday the 13th; but the girls shooting now don’t know Heathers; they know Mean Girls,” Murphy says of the series, which features a score filled with late ’80s/early ’90s hits. “Every generation has their own version of that so hopefully Scream Queens will become this generations of that.”
As for juggling Scream Queens and American Horror Story: Hotel, Murphy says that hasn’t been a challenge since the Lady Gaga-fronted season of the FX anthology is extremely dark this year.
“It’s fun to write Scream Queens but challenging to write Horror Story, particularly this season, which is about a personal fear and phobia that I have that I haven’t explored since the first season of Horror Story because it f—ked me up and I didn’t want to write about things I was scared of — but I wanted to go back to that.”
Are you excited to see Scream Queens? Sound off in the comments on who you think will be the four to survive to season two.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.