Cooking Up Shows That Are Scary-Good Fun

Several Cable Nets are combining funny, side-splitting comedy with literal and bloody side-splitting sci-fi/horror content to create original series that are simultaneously scaring and tickling a legion of viewers.

Shows such as Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead, IFC’s Stan Against Evil, Hulu’s Future Men and TBS’s Final Space are reaching viewers across multiple demos by providing the unlikely mix of the comedy and sci-fi/horror genres.

“Why does sweet and salty go together, or peanut butter and chocolate?” Starz president of programming Carmi Zlotnik asked. “They are just great combinations, much like horror and comedy.”

The network’s Ash vs Evil Dead — a takeoff of the classic 1980s Evil Dead horror film franchise — launches its third season Sunday (Feb. 25) as it continues to draw a new generation of viewers, along with fans of the movies.

“There’s a value to horror in that you can take the scariest parts of humanity and render them safe for processing,” Zlotnik said. “You can stimulate all of those fight-or-flight responses in your mind in a way that gives you a bit of rehearsal of what you would do in a situation, but then you temper it with comedy, which is more safe.”

Zlotnik said the humor that often revolves around the very violent and bloody encounters between the undead and demon killer Ash Williams provides audiences with a humorous thrill ride that offers clearly defined heroes and villains.

“The reason Ash vs Evil Dead caught on is because you have a great hero in [series star] Bruce Campbell,” he said. “He’s powerful, charismatic and funny because he’s the most unlikely savior of the world, but that doesn’t stop him from saving it.”

IFC’s Stan Against Evil — in which the former sheriff of a small New Hampshire town that’s built on top of a massive witch graveyard teams with the new woman sheriff to rid the town of demons and spirits looking to avenge their demise — has also attracted both comedy and horror fans to deliver a genre-blending hit. The series was recently renewed for a third season, which will debut later this year.

“People talk about triple-threat performers — singer, dancer, actor — and we feel like these are triple-threat shows reaching the comedy, sci-fi and horror fans,” IFC senior vice president of original programming Christine Lubrano said. “The reason why it works for us is because there’s a lot of crossover for passionate comedy fans and horror fans.”

Something for Everyone

Indeed, the comedy/horror/sci-fi genre cuts across men, women, race and economics, Starz’s Zlotnik said. “I think there are horror fans, there are comedy fans, and then horror comedy fans that combines the audiences of the genres,” he said.

For these shows to be successful, IFC’s Lubrano added, they needed to be able to satisfy very discerning groups of genre fans.

“For it to work, the comedy needed to be as funny as possible and the horror needed to be as authentic and horrific as possible,” she said. “We had to make sure the story honored the passion that both of those audiences bring.”

Other networks are looking to cash in on the sci-fi/horror/comedy trend with new shows premiering. TBS on Feb. 26 will debut Final Space, a new animated series produced by Conan O’Brien that follows the wacky exploits of an astronaut and his alien friend as they travel through the galaxy.

Pop TV later this year will debut The Demons of Dorian Gunn, which follows a disgraced New York socialite who learns that he’s descended from a line of demon hunters and is forced to protect humanity.

“This modern spin on Buffy the Vampire Slayer brings nostalgia, which our channel is very much playing in, as well as being funny, so it plays in our comedy world,” Pop president Brad Schwartz said. “It tickles the nostalgia bone, it tickles the comedy bone and brings a horror element.”

TruTV has tapped comedian and director Bobcat Goldthwait to create Misfits & Monsters, an anthology series that Goldthwait said was influenced by the classic Twilight Zone franchise.

“They are slightly scary, hopefully funny with monsters,” Goldthwait said. “The big thing for me is there’s also some satire in it.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.