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Ryan Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk have been driving fear into the hearts of viewers for years on American Horror Story. Now, the two – along with co-creator Ian Brennan – are trying to add humor into the mix with the new series Scream Queens.
“They’re very tonally different,” Murphy said at the Television Critics Association summer press tour Thursday. “Scream Queens has a much more satirical, cartoonish quality to the attacks than American Horror does, which is much more sexualized and darker at times.”
Although American Horror Story is more sexualized, Murphy admitted he’s already had several conversations about such content on Scream Queens because it airs on Fox and not FX. “We have had healthy discussions with broadcast standards, shockingly more about the language and the girls having an empowering sense of their own sexuality,” he said.
Set on a college campus that’s rocked by a series of murders, Scream Queens stars Emma Roberts as the popular but demanding Chanel Oberlin, the head of sorority Kappa House. Skyler Samuels plays 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 and the mysterious Red Devil killer. Jamie Lee Curtis, whom Murphy dubbed “the original scream queen,” plays the college’s anti-sorority dean.
The actors said, and the executive producers confirmed, that they do not yet know who the killer is. “You need that sense of fear and urgency in the characters,” said Falchuk.
Murphy has previously revealed that only four of the 25 characters featured in Scream Queens‘ first season will survive. However, unlike his and Falchuk’s FX anthology series American Horror Story, the actors who live will return as the same characters if and when season two gets the green light.
“That raises the stakes and the suspense, and yes, they send muffin baskets,” said Murphy of the cast. “People love the material. They love each other. … They say, ‘OK, we would love to come back next year.’ We get that hint a lot.”
When asked about another horror TV series, MTV’s adaptation of the 1996 hit film Scream, Murphy said “the more the merrier,” and again pointed to the very different tones of the two projects. “Ours is more comedic and more satirical,” he said. “I think that people can easily figure out that they are two different shows with ‘scream’ in the title.”
Murphy also spoke to the spike in horror TV series in recent years. “This genre has really exploded in the years since The Walking Dead came on and made such a huge impact,” said Murphy. “That show really made an impact on us because it brought horror back to television in a big way.”
Scream Queens premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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