Net­work banks on new blood for fresh scares

MTV snaps up the op­por­tu­nity to bring ‘ Scream’ to the mil­len­nial land­scape.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Steven Zeitchik

When they’re not wor­ried about a blood­thirsty killer on the loose, the teenagers in MTV’s new “Scream” show pre­oc­cupy them­selves with a more es­o­teric con­cern: Can a hor­ror prop­erty re­ally be stretched out over 10 episodes?

As Noah ( John Karna), the show’s res­i­dent f ilmgeek char­ac­ter, says skep­ti­cally, “You can’t do a slasher movie as a TV se­ries.”

It’s a neat trick, at once indulging the fran­chise’s love for self- ref­er­ence while pre­empt­ing a ques­tion that may al­ready be on the au­di­ence’s mind.

Nine­teen years af­ter it f irst de­lighted movie­go­ers with its sly and gory ex­plo­rations — and nearly three years af­ter the start of a long de­vel­op­ment process — “Scream” makes a re­turn Tues­day. What seemed to have f iz­zled with a fourth f ilm in­stall­ment in 2011 has, like one of those re­silient slasher- movie killers, jolted back from near- death. This time, though, it will do so on tele­vi­sion, test­ing the lim­its of re­boots, post- modernism and a net­work’s de­mo­graphic reach.

“I think the an­gle the

show takes harks back to what peo­ple love about the movie, but with a voice that is youth­ful and con­tem­po­rary,” said Su­sanne Daniels, MTV’s pres­i­dent of pro­gram­ming, adding: “We al­ways thought that if we could cap­ture even 50% of what the movie did in this se­ries, we would be sat­is­fied.”

In 1996, “Scream” and its bull’s- eyed hero­ine Sid­ney Prescott sold nearly 25 mil­lion tick­ets in the U. S. thanks to a fresh and clever take on the hor­ror genre. The movie boasted a di­rec­tor leg­end in Wes Craven, a writer phe­nom­e­non in Kevin Wil­liamson, a quintessen­tially ’ 90s cast that in­cluded Courteney Cox and Neve Camp­bell, and a savvy re­lease by Mi­ra­max Films’ genre arm Di­men­sion.

In 2015, “Scream” looks a lot dif­fer­ent. While Di­men­sion re­mains, Cox, Camp­bell and the rest of the cast are gone. Wil­liamson had no in­volve­ment. Craven of­fered some notes but was not an in­stru­men­tal force.

In­stead, Jill Blotevo­gel and Jaime Paglia — vet­er­ans of the Syfy se­ries “Eureka” — were hired as show run­ners and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers and set the se­ries down another nar­ra­tive path. This is a new town with a new back story. Ab­sent from the world is sig­na­ture vil­lain Ghost­face.

But if the char­ac­ters and con­tent are dif­fer­ent, the form and spirit are sim­i­lar: a grue­some mur­der, a build­ing mys­tery, a re­volv­ing door of sus­pects, a hero­ine with a dark fam­ily back story. And, of course, plenty of ref­er­ences to the hor­ror genre it­self.

Af­ter the pool­side mur­der of a teenager — shades of Drew Bar­ry­more’s Casey Becker — there is new fear in the small town of Lake­wood, par­tic­u­larly among a core band of high school­ers. Cen­tral to that group is the ca­pa­ble Emma ( Willa Fitzger­ald), whose mother, Mag­gie ( Tracy Mid­den­dorf ), also hap­pens to be a med­i­cal ex­am­iner. Af­ter the killer strikes, Emma tries to hash out what’s hap­pen­ing by talk­ing to such peo­ple as pal Noah, by feel­ing out her mother, and by re­con­nect­ing with old friend Au­drey ( Bex Tay­lor- Klaus), a loner who is cy­ber­bul­lied af­ter a video of her with another woman goes vi­ral.

“Scream” has al­ways been about hor­ror as a Tro­jan horse for larger zeit­geist sub­jects, which makes it fit­ting that the new ver­sion is f illed with tex­ting mil­len­ni­als and housed on the 21st cen­tury medium of orig­i­nalseries ca­ble. Even bul­ly­ing is a key theme, as a vic­tim­turned- killer from 20 years be­fore be­comes a key part of the back story — and, pos­si­bly, the front story.

“I don’t think any­body can do what Kevin Wil­liamson did in 1996,” Blotevo­gel said of her ap­proach. “We are try­ing to take the best of that. And we have a wider pal­ette of col­ors than he had. There are so many ways a killer can use to ter­rify vic­tims, for in­stance. It’s not just about them call­ing on a land line.”

That pal­ette has been part of why it’s taken so long for the show to ar­rive. “Scream,” which was teased at an MTV up­front pre­sen­ta­tion as far back as 2013, has been on a wind­ing, f ilm- like road to the screen.

The writ­ers Jay Beat­tie and Dan Dworkin ini­tially penned a script with a supernatural bent. Di­men­sion’s Bob Weinstein didn’t like the oth­er­worldly as­pect, so the script was scrapped and Blotevo­gel and Paglia sub­se­quently hired. Pro­duc­ers hired a cast and got to a ta­ble read, but an ac­tress, Amy Forsyth, was deemed not right for the part. She was let go and re­placed with Tay­lor- Klaus.

Through­out, there have also been long con­ver­sa­tions be­tween writ­ers, MTV and Di­men­sion over the show’s tone and di­rec­tion, and such de­cep­tively tricky ques­tions as the proper num­ber of kills. Too many, af­ter all, and you lose the char­ac­ter at­tach­ment es­sen­tial for TV. Too few and, well, it stops be­ing “Scream.”

“It’s re­ally a chal­lenge be­cause once you start to set the teens- are- dy­ing in mo­tion, the in­stinct is to keep do­ing that,” said Paglia.

“Scream” was ahead of its time in 1996, at once mock­ing a genre while also serv­ing as a key en­trant in it. The post­mod­ern sen­si­bil­ity is now more in vogue than ever — prac­ticed most prof­itably by “22 Jump Street” and “The Lego Movie” di­rec­tors Phil Lord and Chris Miller — which makes this a per­fect mo­ment for “Scream.”

But the TV se­ries can also run into the is­sue of metaitis. The “Scream” movies played against hor­ror- f ilm con­ven­tions. The “Scream” show must play against both ( many more) hor­ror- f ilm con­ven­tions and the “Scream” movies them­selves. Right off the bat, writ­ers had to f ig­ure out whether to give the killer a mask, an in­deli­ble sym­bol of the orig­i­nal. They did, but with a dif­fer­ent look, which has caused some fan push­back. Writ­ers also opted — af­ter some back- and- forth — not to use the “Scream” se­ries as a ref­er­ence point within the show; even sel­f­ref­er­ence has its lim­its.

“Scream” is also unique in that, un­like other ca­ble se­ries such as “Fargo,” “Bates Mo­tel” or even MTV’s own “Teen Wolf,” it is drawn not from a long- ago cin­e­matic un­con­scious but from a prop­erty that never re­ally went away.

Still, whether it res­onates for young view­ers is an open ques­tion. The net­work is tar­get­ing its core de­mo­graphic of 12- to 24- year- olds ( or, at most, 30- year- olds), not a group that would have been very aware, or alive, when the orig­i­nal be­came a phe­nom­e­non.

Di­men­sion’s Weinstein, at least, says the talk of mil­len­nial am­ne­sia is over­stated. “Thank God for Netf lix and video on de­mand, be­cause I think a lot of them have seen ‘ Scream’ movies,” he said, adding, “You just have to look at TV. ‘ Walk­ing Dead’ is huge. All of these are huge. We think there’s a real op­por­tu­nity here.”

A younger gen­er­a­tion may, in­deed, have its own touch points. “‘ Hannibal’ is gone, and ‘ Dex­ter’ is gone, so we need this. We need more hor­ror,” said Karna, in a ref­er­ence- heavy com­ment his char­ac­ter would ap­pre­ci­ate.

To con­vey the feel of the show, Blotevo­gel en­cour­aged ac­tors to think about it as mov­ing in two di­rec­tions at once, as both “Fri­day the 13th” and “Fri­day Night Lights.”

That would be an am­bi­tious hy­brid even with­out the added pa­ram­e­ters pro­vided by the show’s net­work home. With its glossy look and well- scrubbed ac­tors, “Scream” will be quickly iden­ti­fi­able as an MTV se­ries even to those with only a pass­ing fa­mil­iar­ity with the net­work’s brand of scripted pro­gram­ming.

“I am not im­mune to the skep­ti­cism,” said Fitzger­ald, who plays Emma. “But I think why these movies are be­ing re­made into TV shows is that a TV show al­lows you to spend much more time with these char­ac­ters. It’s not that you want to see more of the story — you want to see more of the peo­ple.”

More than just the “Scream” legacy is on the line. While MTV un­der for­mer WB pro­gram­ming chief Daniels has found suc­cess with her scripted shows — they in­clude the high- school sex dram­edy “Fak­ing It” and the ABC Fam­ily- es­que “Find­ing Carter” — none is as well known as “Scream.” To­gether with “Shan­nara,” the “Game of Thrones”- like fan­tasy se­ries that will de­but within the next year, it helps form the most high- pro­file scripted slate MTV has put to­gether in years and is a lit­mus test for whether MTV un­der Daniels can com­pete in the stakes- f illed game of branded TV en­ter­tain­ment

The ex­ec­u­tive said she thought the rich folk­lore of “Scream” gave the se­ries an edge. It also, she ac­knowl­edged, set the bar high.

“When I was work­ing with Joss Whe­don and we were de­vel­op­ing ‘ Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer’ from a movie to a TV se­ries, it felt like the stakes were low be­cause the movie wasn’t highly re­garded,” she said, then paused. “This is very dif­fer­ent.”

MTV

AMADEUS SER­AFINI and Willa Fitzger­ald por­tray teenagers in a small town where a killer is on the loose in MTV’s small- screen re­boot of “Scream.”

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