From ‘The Twilight Zone’ to ‘Modern Love,’ TV Anthologies Move Toward Episode-Long Stories

Variety | 5/30/2019 | Amber Dowling
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When Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story” premiered in 2011, FX wasn’t just gambling on TV’s return to horror; it was also taking a risk by revisiting the abandoned anthology structure first popularized in the 1950s and ’60s. When that one-two punch resonated with viewers and forged the path for such awards-circuit favorites as “Fargo” and HBO’s “True Detective,” it seemed as if the format had been officially reborn. Fast forward to today and most broadcast networks, cablers and OTT providers count at least one anthology on their slate. But where anthologies once implied season-long storytelling, it is becoming increasingly more popular to produce episodic anthologies, such as Netflix’s “Black Mirror” or the upcoming “Modern Love” for Amazon.

“As the business has moved more to brand and the value of that brand from a subscriber standpoint — whether it’s someone who subscribes to your channel via big bundle or a direct-to-consumer basis — there’s a lot of brand value to a variety of programming and shows that aren’t necessarily long-running drama series,” says Eric Schrier, president of original programming for FX Networks and FX Prods.

Mahershala - Ali - Black - Lead - 'True

Mahershala Ali on Fighting for a Black Lead on 'True Detective'

When Murphy pitched “American Horror Story,” Schrier’s team committed to making the economics work in order to support the creative, a strategy that paid off with subsequent projects such as “Fargo” and “American Crime Story.” The exec admits he’s seen an increase in limited series pitches in subsequent years, especially as filmmakers and traditional big-screen stars flock to television.

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When “True Detective” hit the circuit in 2014, it became synonymous with marquee stars once Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were on board. By the time the second season began casting, plenty of ink was spilled as speculation over which big-name actors would star in the show flooded headlines.

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