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Submitted for your approval…

November 22, 2012

I love anthology tv series.  I just started the fourth season of Ray Bradbury Theater and am happy to say that the third season, which is when the series went from HBO to USA Network, was a vast improvement on the first two.  The show is still not going to displace any of my favorite anthology series but, it is definitely a lot more watchable now.  This reminded me of something I noticed a number of years ago when I first started researching all the genre anthology series.  If we look at successful genre anthology series, there is an interesting observation to be made.  I’ll wait until the end of this post to tell you what it is so that you can “play along” as you read.  I’m going to arbitrarily define a successful anthology series as one that lasted 5 seasons or more.  Going by this metric there are 9 genre anthology series that pass this test.  In alphabetical order they are:

Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
The Hitchhiker
The Outer Limits
Ray Bradbury Theater
Tales from the Crypt
Tales of the Unexpected (UK)
The Twilight Zone
Thriller (UK)

Alfred Hitchcock, while largely more of a suspense series, did feature the occasional  supernatural story.  Not being as familiar with The Hitchhiker as I would like, I’m not sure if it should be on the list given that it might just be a straight up suspense anthology series with no genre elements.  The British Thriller series is not the same as the US one hosted by Karloff (it has no host).  I have also never seriously checked out Are You Afraid of the Dark? as it aired on Nickelodeon in the US so, I always assumed it was a kids show.  Finally, the Outer Limits is really the Showtime reboot which ran for 7 seasons.  I tend to count the original series as part of this because, the follow-on series had heavy involvement from both of the original series creators Joe Stefano and Leslie Stevens, mostly the former.  I think this is why it holds up quite well and much better than any of The Twilight Zone follow-on series.

There is one format element that all but one of the above series share and I have already hinted at it in the previous paragraph.  Can you guess?  It turns out that every show but Thriller featured a host.  Ray Bradbury Theater might actually count as a half vote because they stopped using Ray’s narrations as story intros midway through the third season but, since all of the stories are written by him anyway, I am going to still count it as one.  So, it seems pretty clear to me that the host idea is a good one for anthology shows.  I think it has to do with lending a continuing character to give the audience someone they look forward to seeing each week much like for a standard dramatic series.  I don’t think having a host will guarantee an anthology series success.  Ghost Story did have Sebastion Cabot as its host and, while they did drop him for the final eight episodes, I don’t think the series would have continued had they done otherwise.  Even so, the advice I would give to any future anthology show producers would be the standard line attributed to Jewish mothers everywhere.  It couldn’t hurt.

  1. Have you ever seen 13 Demon Street or the remaining episodes of Way Out? How about The Veil with Boris Karloff?

    • Yes to 13 Demon Street. I think the set-up for the show was a kind of brilliant idea that could have been executed a lot better. The idea was that the narrator (Lon Chaney Jr.) committed some horrendous crime and the only way he would be freed from his exile at the above address was if he showed the audience a more heinous crime than the one he committed. The problem is that since we don’t know his crime, we can’t judge. I think a better way to run it is that the host has to admit his crime to the audience to escape so, you could have this ongoing meta-story with the host gradually hinting at what he did. Some of the hints being brought out by the themes of the various episodes. You could even have an episode where he admits his crime and is released. Then next episode we get a new host suffering the same sentence. Just my spin on the idea. One cool feature of the house was that it had a clock with a pendulum swinging but, no hands on the face (implying that time kind of didn’t exist in the house).

      As far as episode quality went it was pretty varied. There were a few episodes that stood out but the only one I can recall at the moment is The Girl in the Glacier.

      For Way Out I have only watched the pilot off of so far. I will ultimately check out the rest but, I really don’t enjoy watching stuff on my computer. All of the episodes are supposed to exist as some museum in New York City claims to have them all in their archive.

      I have read very good stuff about The Veil but haven’t gotten to it yet. I’ll probably go through it after I finish up with Ray Bradbury Theater.

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