It's been 12 years since FX became a destination for daring TV, emerging from the primordial ooze with The Shield, Nip/Tuck, and Rescue Me over the course of three years between 2002-2005. Last week, at the Paley Center two men at the center of that early network success - Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy and Shield star Michael Chiklis - announced that they were teaming up to power the 4th season of FX Network's horror anthology, American Horror Story, as it goes to the "freak show" this time around.
Joining American Horror Story alums Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Gadbourey Sidibe, Emma Roberts, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Angela Bassett, and Denis O’Hare this season, Chiklis will play Bates' ex-husband and Evan Peters' father in his third try at TV success since The Shield went off the air, following one and done series' No Ordinary Family and Vegas.
Specific details about Chiklis' character's involvement in the freak show were, naturally, held close to the vest, but Murphy did give out some information:
"It’s not a circus and it’s not a carnival. It’s a freak show, which is very unique. It’s set in 1950. And it was something that’s been Jessica Lange’s favorite thing to talk about, every season. She wanted to play this sort of character, and she really likes that milieu, so that’s exciting. We’re shooting it in New Orleans, but it’s going to be set in Florida, where all great things happen."
Besides the setting and its appeal to series mainstay Jessica Lange, Murphy also seems eager to write to Chiklis' strengths (intensity, menace, being The Commish); a winning strategy that has helped the show net an enviable roster of talent each season.
Here's Murphy on that process:
"This show is so unusual. We love actors, and we write roles for actors. We write them specifically for the actor, with love and admiration. We always start off as fans, and then go from there."
While the appeal of working in such a welcoming environment can't be underestimated, at the end of the day, the material is what matters most, and Chiklis seems to be genuinely thrilled by the challenge that he is about to take on:
"When we met, Ryan pitched the idea and talked about what we were going to do. I said to him, “I’m terrified, and I’m going to do it. That’s just a bit of a tease because I would never divulge anything that he said. I’ll leave that all to him. But, I can say that my heart was pounding. It is a freak show. Oh, man! But as actors, that’s what we love to do. We love to take risks and take chances and do things that are challenging. I thought, “Oh, my god!” I’m going to be up to my eyes with this one. It should be exciting."
Will that challenge appeal to season 1 stars Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott (who also appeared in season 2) once again? Here's Murphy on the possibility of adding season 1 cast members to American Horror Story: Freak Show:
"Yeah. What’s amazing is that we really consider ourselves a family and a troupe of actors. I’ve always loved that Orson Welles/Mercury Theatre idea. So, I do speak to Dylan [McDermott] and I do speak to Connie [Britton]. It sometimes becomes about scheduling, but once you’re on, you’re on. It’s just about finding that right time and the right role. But yes, there will be some."
Unfortunately for those actors, scheduling may not be as much of a factor as it might have been in the past. Hostages, McDermott's CBS event series, is unlikely to get a renewal (McDermott has already booked a new pilot for CBS) and Britton's current series, Nashville, is a toss up at this point as the country music industry-based drama is fighting for a 3rd season (despite its iTunes music revenue and guilty pleasure feel).
If one, or both of those actors somehow finds themselves unemployed, it seems like a trip back to American Horror Story may be an option - even if it's in a small, yet pivotal role - but it obviously won't be the only one for the in-demand actors. Besides, it's clear that the show isn't suffering from a lack of star power presently with Chiklis, Bates, Lange, and Bassett on board, or intrigue as they head down to Florida in the 1950s to open up a freak show so horrific that it has Vic Mackey "terrified."
American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres on FX in the fall of 2014