‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’: Why this cable network is betting big on horror

31 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’: Why this cable network is betting big on horror.

Whoever thought that lovers of gore-splattered, demon-possessed monsters were a valuable target audience? There are no limits to how far Bruce Campbell is willing to go for his fans. “I’ve choked and been blinded for you, the viewer,” the actor told Variety of playing the role of demon fighter Ash Williams in the “Evil Dead” film series. Evil Dead—about a middle-aged stock boy fighting an army of drooling “deadites”—could be a key show in a cable network’s niche strategy? “We talked to a lot of places about this show, met with a lot of high-falutin’ suitors,” says Ash vs. Campbell, as Ash Williams, fought back against an onslaught of monsters from beyond at a remote cabin — thus setting a template for backwoods terror that continues into the genre’s modern incarnations.

Sunday talk shows: “Capital Download” (WUSA at 8:30 a.m.) talks to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson; “Fox News Sunday” (Fox at 8) hosts Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina; “White House Chronicle” (WETA at 9) hosts Mary Dimmock for a discussion about myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome; “State of the Union” (CNN at 9) features GOP presidential candidate John Kasich; “Government Matters” (WJLA at 9) hosts Maria Roat, chief technology officer at the Transportation Department; “Newsmakers” (C-SPAN at 10) talks to Rep. Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell, a fixture in the films on which the show is based and also a producer of the new series, which debuts on Halloween. “But Starz is the only place this could have worked. Ash and ye shall receive II: Today at 2 and 8 p.m. are chances to get splattered with gore courtesy of “Evil Dead the Musical,” at the Byham Theater, Downtown (tickets: $50-$75; trustarts.org or 412-456-6666): The only musical in the world with a splatter zone, this live stage show combines elements from the horror films “Evil Dead 1 & 2” and “Army of Darkness.” as five college students go to an abandoned cabin in the woods and accidentally unleash an evil force that turns them all into demons. And his formula for comic-horror-tragedy remains remarkably vivid, perhaps translating better in the serialized world of the small screen than on celluloid. Deadly, but adorable: Baboon Creation, a Montreal-based graphics design firm specializing in branding, has had fun all October, each day adding a cute, classic horror character to a lineup of killer GIFs.

Starz has already renewed the gory horror-comedy for a second season, counting on the property’s rabid fan support before they’ve even seen the show. Sunday night on “Madam Secretary” (CBS at 8), Elizabeth and President Dalton are wary of a power grab within the Russian government in the wake of President Ostrov’s death. The premiere episode is directed by Raimi, and it’s a mini-masterpiece — leaving you alternately laughing and gasping at the sheer, overbearing grossness and stupidity of it all. One day, it’s “Halloween’s” Michael Myers, skipping along with a pumpkin treat bag, another, Frankenstein’s monster (wearing a Flash T-shirt). RETURNING SHOW: The team gathers to investigate a mysterious storm threatening Manhattan in the two-hour season premiere of “The Librarians” (TNT at 8).

The Returned (10 p.m., Sundance) – If you like your zombie shows a little on the arty side, the second season of this excellent French series returns tonight. Pablo Echeverri, one of the designers, said, “It’s just our way of paying tribute to the films we love.” Check them out (and download) at babooncreation.com. Evil Dead’s” premiere, Campbell sat down with Variety to tell us where we’ll find Ash after all these years, the appeal of changing the medium to television and why it took so long for his return to the franchise that launched his career.

SERIES PREMIERE: “Breakthrough” (Nat Geo at 9) explores innovative science and inventions, starting with a look at pioneering efforts to fight future pandemics. Candy, crushed: Pop culture site PureWow.com has taken its sweet time rating the most common Halloween candies, but here are highlights from its list. SERIES PREMIERE: On “The Demon Files” (Destination America at 10), a cop turned demonologist and his team investigate possible paranormal activity in the home of a family that says they’re plagued by attacks.

Targeting groups that other networks have overlooked—and then using those communities to reach millions of other viewers—has been the plan at Starz STRZA -9.92% since Chris Albrecht became CEO in 2010. “We really needed to come up with a point of view about where we were serving in the marketplace,” Albrecht told Fortune.com recently. “How we were differentiating ourselves? That took me awhile to figure out.” Since Albrecht joined Starz, the network has added 7 million new subscribers to become the second-most-distributed premium cable network after HBO TWX -0.17% .

And one way Starz did that, says the network’s managing director Carmi Zlotnik, is to “super-serve the underserved,” by delivering shows that grab an appreciative audience and then push beyond. No arguing with No. 27, however: Jack-o-Lantern peeps (“Gross at Easter, worse at Halloween.”) New “Horror”: Laverne Cox of “Orange Is the New Black” will get her “sweet transvestite” on for Fox’s two-hour taped reimagining of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” set to air in fall of next year. A little heavier, a little less suave — but still a ladies’ man — Ash unwittingly comes back to bat when the evil from beyond returns to raise hell. “It’s probably the most fun character there is to play,” said Mr. Power and Survivor’s Remorse are Starz series that have connected with African-American viewers while The White Queen and Outlander have brought in women.

Now the network is going for horror-movie fans, with the latest addition to the venerable Evil Dead fear franchise. “We’re huge fans,” Zlotnik says of the Evil Dead franchise. “And that includes people like me who grew up with it, it includes the assistants in the office who are just getting into it.” The Evil Dead is the epitome of a cult classic, collecting millions of fans over the last 30-odd years—with loyalists supporting the original trilogy of films, a 2013 reboot, videogames, comic books, and even a musical. Like Campbell, Evil Dead creator Sam Raimi is a big Three Stooges buff and it shows in scenes that routinely mix slapstick comedy and over-the-top gore. Even if we were doing this for theaters, we’d have to worry about getting an R.” Still, Campbell promises TV viewers, “We’re not going to abuse the freedom we’ve been given and destroy people’s psyches. You can have a celebratory shot to the head.” “It’s all about targeting each show to a certain demographic and psychographic and trying to hit that white-hot core,” he says. “And igniting a phenomenon where social media and word of mouth starts to bring out another audience. Anticipation has been high, Internet chatter has been steady, and a cast appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con drew long lines. “Starz got something like 15 million views just for the first trailer,” Campbell says. “Twice as many hits as they’ve gotten on anything else, and this is a new show … I’ve worked with plenty of studios who didn’t get it, or didn’t want to, but [Starz knows] what they’ve got.

But, you know, everything that Ash needed was in the first two movies anyway.” “That was a director [Fede Alvarez] who had a whim, who goes ‘I have this great idea,’” Mr. Campbell said of the remake, which was far more serious in tone than its antecedents. “It has nothing to do with anything, but I wanted to [cameo].” Despite some time line disparities, what fans crave will return, including the “classic” ‘73 Delta 88 that made appearances in all three films. Keep the hard-core loyalists happy, and then build on that. “With an existing franchise, I think you take a Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm,” Zlotnik says. “Honor the fan base, peel back the layers, understand what it is about the franchise they love and then deliver on that.

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