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Like many kids who grew up in the 90’s, my earliest memoires of the horror genre consist of being scared out of my mind watching Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of The Dark. The show centered on a group of teenagers who told each other “scary stories” in the woods. The stories they told were then displayed on television. I can’t even begin to tell you how many nightmares these stories inspired. But then the horror genera on television took a hiatus from my life. There just weren't any mainstream horror television shows. Sure, I’d seen a few episodes of The Twilight Zone (1956-1964) in reruns. I caught the occasional episode of The X-Files (1993-2002), and I was aware of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), but all in all I was too young for these shows, and while they can be classified in the horror genre they mainly dealt with super natural forces. I didn’t get back into this genre until Dexter hit the airways, and then it felt like there was an onslaught of horror-type shows on television.
Dexter premiered on October 1, 2006. I didn’t watch the show in its first two seasons. However, I had heard a lot of positive criticism of the show, so I picked up the DVDs and binge watched it. I was hooked! The first few seasons of Dexter were amazing. I had never seen anything like it, and for the most part no one had. By season three Showtime knew they had a hit; 1.51 million viewers tuned in for the season finale, giving Showtime its highest ratings since 2004. Dexter just ended its eighth and final season, and sure, the finale was lacking, and show has gone down hill in the last few years, but there were 2.8 million viewers who tuned in for it. Clearly viewers are digging the horror genre.
But why was Dexter so popular? Why did people tune in week after week to see what their favorite neighborhood serial killer was up to? Maybe it was his moral conscience, giving the bad guys what they deserved. Or the fact that Showtime could air all the blood, sex, and graphic violence they wanted to. Or maybe it was the compelling storylines. I think the main reason was that we could know or even become a “Dexter” in our real lives. Dexter is an everyman, he is likeable, and blends into society. The show let people explore their dark sides. Dexter called it his “dark passenger.” At one time or another almost every person’s mind has gone to that dark place; while most people would never act on those feelings, Dexter did. He had a need to kill. Just like some people enjoy playing violent video games to blow off some steam, many of us enjoyed watching Dexter. We need there to be a sense of justice in the world and let's be honest: sometimes in our real lives there isn’t. As warped as his sense of justice was, Dexter always had one. He lived by the code. Dexter and shows like it let us explore our darker sides, and before Dexter, there really hadn't been a show that could allow us to safely do so in quite some time.
It seems that Dexter may have paved the way and set into motion an obsession with gore filled horror-style television shows in popular culture, or at the very least made the genre much more mainstream. In 2008, True Blood premiered in the midst of the vampire craze that was sweeping the nation. It differed greatly from Dexter, since it dealt with the supernatural, but it had all the blood and gore we expect from a horror-television show, not to mention a ton of sex. It was also extremely popular; the second season's finale (September 13, 2009) was seen by 5.1 million viewers. All of a sudden horror on television was cool. We as viewers just couldn’t get enough. I remember when I first started watching True Blood: it was my freshman year of college and I got my hands on the first season DVD. I didn’t leave my dorm until I was caught up on Season 1. Ever since I’ve been a True Blood Fan. As we all know the upcoming season 7 will be True Blood’s last season and I’m definitely going to watch. The show isn’t as good as it used to be, but I’ll be tuning in regardless.
It's not just premium networks like HBO and Showtime that are getting in on this trend. Broadcast networks like FOX and NBC are jumping on the bandwagon along with basic cable networks like FX. If you haven’t heard about FX’s American Horror Story, you must be living under a rock. It deputed in 2011 and the first season finale reached 3.22 million viewers. American Horror Story was unique, and just like Dexter, I had never seen anything like it. It was creepy and scary, yet I absolutely loved it. It also functioned that each season was a separate story. Season 1 was about a family living in a haunted house, season 2 was about an insane asylum, and season 3, which premiers October 9th, is about a coven of witches. It's also taken home a slew of awards.
As I said earlier broadcast networks are getting in on the action too. NBC has Hannibal, which premiered in April 2013, and a second season is set to air in 2014. FOX has The Following, which premiered in January of 2013 and is set to have a second season air in spring of 2014.
It’s clear that horror-type shows are becoming increasingly more popular. I couldn’t be happier, since I absolutely love this genre. However, I’m also nervous. So far these horror-type shows have been pretty well done. They have had excellent production value and decent story lines. (Yeah, I know Dexter lost some momentum). If this trend continues I’m worried that networks will create shows just to compete. The horror genre has just recently become popular in mainstream pop culture, and my fear is that as networks try to compete, the production value of these shows will go down along with their concepts. If networks and writers can keep delivering things we have never seen before, then we are in good shape; however, I’m not sure if they can. I mean how many cop procedurals are on television right now? Lets just hope this type of over production doesn’t happen to the horror genre, because let's be honest: how many serial killers does television actually need?