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FX's American Horror Story and AMC's The Walking Dead Bring a New Intensity to Television Drama

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Is it possible for a series that fits squarely into the horror genre to survive on television? The debut of FX's American Horror Story and the second season of AMC's The Walking Dead will provide answers in the weeks to come.

Of course, horror is in the eye of the beholder, and some genre enthusiasts will assert that it is alive and well in The CW's Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries, HBO's True Blood and Syfy's Being Human. But I would argue that the under-appreciated Supernatural is as much an action-thriller as a creepy chiller; that The Vampire Diaries is a teen-appeal soap opera with horror elements; that True Blood is excitingly violent, sexy, mysterious and humorous, but never really scary, and that Being Human, despite centering on a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost, exists more to explore the human condition as experienced by uncertain young adults than the inhuman experiences of menacing creatures of the night.

American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, on the other hand, serve up suffocating horror with an intensity so unrelenting that it goes beyond emotional connection to psychological interactivity. They are nothing like most series, which tend to make for comparatively passive viewing experiences.

What makes them both particularly interesting is that they stretch to their breaking points the limitations of traditionally accepted content on advertiser supported programs. At the very least they invite a renewed assessment of content issues. Are extended scenes of unrelenting horror and unspeakable violence, especially if they involve children, more or less acceptable than the occasional F-bomb or explicit nudity -- and if so, why? Will sponsors support ultra-violence and extreme horror outside of the procedural crime genre, where the intent of such content is to maximize interest in subsequent criminal investigations rather than to terrify on a primal level?

This column continues over at MediaPost.