With the success of American Horror Story on cable, it's not surprising that broadcast networks would take another stab (no pun intended) at bringing a new horror story to the masses.
ABC will attempt to do just that on Sunday nights with 666 Park Avenue, a mystery drama based very loosely on the Gabriella Pierce novel of the same name. In the series, an innocent Midwestern couple, Henry (Dave Annable) and Jane (Rachael Taylor), get hired as resident managers of a The Drake, an Upper East Side apartment building in New York owned by Gavin (Terry O'Quinn) and Olivia Doran (Vanessa Williams). Unbeknownst to them, the residents have all made deals with The Devil to have their desires fulfilled.
But 666 will separate itself very quickly from Horror Story — and not just because broadcast standards are a bit more strict. Executive producer Matt Miller tells TVGuide.com that 666 is more of a psychological thriller, looking at how the residents of The Drake will do anything to get their dreams and desires fulfilled. So, will new residents Jane and Henry fall victim to Gavin's games? Get the scoop on the new series below:
The pilot is very different from the novel. Will there be any elements from the book that you will eventually include?
Miller: No. There's nothing at all from the book. I know [series creator] David Wilcox read the book, as a cursory pass at it. It was really more about like the general concept and the title that everyone at ABC was interested in. He obviously went off and came up with his own world and his own story.
So then no witchcraft for Jane?
Miller: There is no witchcraft. I mean we'll see how long we last. You squeeze a couple of seasons out of this, maybe we will be reading books and anything else we can draw any material from. But at this point right now, we're just sort of sticking with this new template and the new story of Henry and Jane arriving at The Drake without any of the witchcraft stuff — more of just the wish fulfillment and the kind of Faustian bargain kind of stuff.
How difficult is it to find the balance of horror on a broadcast series?
Miller: It is a challenge. It's not a genre typically done on TV. There's two kinds of horror: There's the more aggressive kind of slashery stuff, which this certainly isn't. Then there's more psychological horror, which is what this show falls into. In order to do that, you want to build suspense with creepier moments and things like that, which, usually, [with a] TV audience, people want to get to the next thing really quickly. It is tough to find that balance and trying to actually do something that's genuinely scary while at the same time also fitting into a network mold.
Some people have been calling the show American Horror Story lite. How do you respond to that?
Miller: Oh, we find that very offensive. American Horror Story is actually a different kind of horror than we're playing with here. What we're trying to do is something that's a lot more of a psychological horror — a lot more of a throwback show like Rosemary's Baby or The Shining. Whereas, American Horror Story may be more overt and more contemporary horror.
Though viewers may now fear being sucked into a wall.
Miller: The Judas hole! How about the elevator? You may never stick your hand into an elevator again as it's closing.
You guys have made the decision to never say the D-word, aka Devil, in the pilot. Is that going to continue or is there a point where you have to drop it?
Miller: No. We really want to play with what audience's expectations are. We're never going to say "Devil" or "deal with The Devil" within the show. It's always off the nose. It's like a guy that is seemingly devil-like, but that someone that can make all your dreams come true, but like with any sort of Faustian bargain or any kind of deal with The Devil, there is a downside to that and there is a price to pay for having your dreams fulfilled. That's sort of, in a broad stroke, what he does and what we're playing with. Certainly The Drake, the building itself, has a supernatural quality. What we're trying to do is to have most, if not all, of our supernatural and horror stuff actually take place within the confines of the building.
To the point about mentioning him being The Devil, he's not necessarily The Devil. We're playing him as someone that is flesh and blood. We have an episode with a scene where he's shaving and cuts himself. We want people to see that he can actually bleed, that he can hurt. Because if he is this omniscient, immortal, controlling character, then it makes it not quite as interesting and he's not quite as vulnerable. We always like to see him as more of a Tony Soprano-type than a mustache-twirling devil.
Right. If he can't be killed, what's the point of rooting for Jane and Henry?
Miller: Yeah. We don't want him to be able to wiggle his nose and do anything he wants. We want to see this character — and Terry O'Quinn plays him fabulously — who is somebody that can fulfill supernatural desires and needs and things like that, but at the same time is vulnerable. He loves his wife more than anything. He can get hurt not only physically, but emotionally. So, the more humanized that character becomes, a little bit more interesting and a little bit more of a relatable villain he can be.
How aware is Olivia of what her husband does?
Miller: That's something we played with quite a bit at the beginning. Then we cast Vanessa Williams and the way that she came off in the pilot was that they were a unified front. So, although we had several conversations about whether she knows or doesn't know, we decided at the end that people's expectations watching this pilot and the first few episodes is they're in on this together. But again, it's not The Devil and it's not Mrs. Devil. Just look at them as a power couple in New York. She is aware of the majority of her husband's dealings, but there are always secrets between them, things like, what really happened to their daughter who passed away? Maybe secrets that she's keeping from him, secrets that he's keeping from her, things like that.
We want to feel, whether or not they're in on it together, that they are a real couple. They go through things that a regular couple would go through. They mourn the loss of their child. They have fights within the marriage, things like that, that make it feel a lot more grounded and real.
We see Jane in the pilot begin to realize the effect The Drake is having on them. In most horror films, the main characters don't realize they should leave the house until it's too late. Will this couple be more cognizant or blissfully unaware?
Miller: Certainly Jane becomes very aware of what's going on, to a certain extent. She is haunted by these dreams and ghosts and things like that in the pilot. Really, Jane is a vessel through which we view this story. She's our heroine. She will become quite aware of some of the things that are going on.
Henry, on the other hand, is someone that's driven by his ambition. As we see Gavin start to manipulate Henry and his future, we also see what that does to the couple. We want to start off with this perfect, pure couple and their love for each other is very genuine and very real. But Henry is ... pragmatic and he's not a believer. He's not someone that believes in the supernatural, nor is he seeing any of this stuff that Jane is privy to. So, it causes a little bit of a rift in their relationship when Jane starts to see and think all these terrible things are going on in the building and Henry isn't aware or doesn't necessarily believe any of it.
But the trick also is: How do you keep Jane from saying, "OK, this building is bananas. I want to go find a place in Brooklyn!"? So, that's part of the draw. Not only making her aware of the supernatural, but having her have discover things within The Drake that relate to herself and can reveal not only secrets of The Drake, but perhaps some secrets about her own past.
Are all the residents of The Drake inherently bad considering they have made deals with The Devil, so to speak?
Miller: No. The idea is that there's obviously an unlimited supply of residents. The majority of the residents are just living in a beautiful building on Park Avenue. You'll watch them fall into deals. Some characters' deals will get played out in the course of an episode or two, and other characters' and residents' deals are on what we would call the longer con. Those are more of our season regulars — be it Jane and Henry, Brian (Robert Buckley) and Louise (Mercedes Masöhn), characters like that — that may not be inherently in a deal currently, but [we'll see] how that deal evolves and what it is that they're truly after and how Gavin helps them achieve that.
Will you be watching 666 Park Avenue?
The series premieres Sunday at 10/9c on ABC.