Cable network FX has built a name for itself with daring drama series such as The Shield and Nip/Tuck. But American Horror Story — Glee cocreator Ryan Murphy's new "psychosexual" (his word) drama kicks it up more than a few notches. Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton play a couple whose marriage is already in trouble when they move into a house with a history of mayhem and find themselves involved with sexually provocative ghosts (think rubber suits and French-maid outfits) and a basement decorated in wall-to-wall carnage. We talked with FX Network president John Landgraf about the challenge of bringing such a bold project to ad-supported TV.
TV Guide Magazine: You're breaking some new ground with this show in terms of graphic content. Are viewers ready for this?
Landgraf: I actually disagree with that statement. Even in terms of what you might call graphic violence, Nip/Tuck was well beyond American Horror Story. And in terms of language, Rescue Me is well beyond where American Horror Story is.
TV Guide Magazine: How are viewers going to know if the show is for them? Because it's not for everybody.
Landgraf: One of the decisions I made is we're not going to try to market the show as anything other than what it is. I wasn't going to try to pull in an audience that might be really put off by the content. So we have called it American Horror Story. I thought it was a good title, but I thought it was also a title that branded it as a genre piece. I do think there's an audience that wouldn't go to contemporary horror films in the theater that will really like this show if they give it a try. But truth in advertising has always worked for us before.
TV Guide Magazine: What did you learn about American Horror Story when you showed it to test audiences?
Landgraf: Women, in particular, really like the show a lot, which is fascinating to me. They were kind of mesmerized by the emotional subtext of the marital infidelity, and want to come back and learn the mysteries that have been laced into the pilot.
TV Guide Magazine: Was it tough to get advertisers to buy this show?
Landgraf: No. We're pretty good at this. People know that we have extraordinary levels of engagement with audiences. The last time I checked, we had 42 advertisers already [for] American Horror Story. They know we're responsible in the way we market and whom we market to. They know we air after 10pm and we get a very adult audience. I think those business trails were blazed with The Shield, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me. And they're well-established now.
TV Guide Magazine: So how bad will the real estate market have to be for the Harmon family to stay in this house?
Landgraf: [Laughs] Well, it's the worst it's been in a century. But there are a lot of reasons they stay in the house. You can start to see in the second episode that the house, or its denizens, actually rally in some respects to their defense. So the house is not a purely malevolent presence. It's more complicated than that.