Most TV networks would love to hold their viewers captive and thus keep them from clicking away to other channels or, worse, walking away from the TV set completely. News Corp.'s FX is trying something even more radical by sending fans of "American Horror Story" into an insane asylum.
To get the word out about the second season of "American Horror Story," FX flew four fans to rural upstate New York, where they were "committed" to a mental asylum built in the 1920's, and filmed as they lived out the odd experience. Of course, they were allowed to stay at hotels before being transported to the dressed-up site. Even so, the footage of their antics has been released via the show's website and through social-media channels leading up to the program's premiere on Wednesday, October 17.
For FX, the eyebrow-raising promotion underscores the challenge the network has with a new airing of the program. While the second season of "American Horror Story" features some of the same actors from the first, the milieu, overall cast and plot are completely different. Last season centered on one family's encounter with a haunted house; this season will center on a haunted asylum.
"We have an entirely different show for the second season," said Kenya Hardaway, VP-integrated promotions, FX. "We have to guide the fans away from characters and the story and settings they are used to, and then get them excited about an entirely new viewing experience. It's a challenge."
To devise the complex idea, FX partnered with GMR Marketing, an agency that specializes in so-called "experiential" marketing. On August 31st, the group launched an interactive website that asked fans to "Get Committed" to the show by assessing their own mental health with the aid of an old-fashioned ink-blot evaluation. Results were shareable on Facebook. Visitors were also allowed to register for a chance to "stay committed" and four were chosen.
The "winners" were flown to Batavia, New York, site of an old and nonfunctioning insane asylum currently owned by a woman who uses it for haunted tours. "There was something of a hoarder-type setting," recalled Thomas Taylor, director-operations at GMR. "There were a lot of rooms with a lot of junk. We spent a day and a half getting junk out of the asylum, upgrading almost 20 rooms and prepping. There were 52 cameras throughout when we brought the contestants in. We put them through a battery of 'experiments' and 'tests,' with the ultimate goal being for them to escape the asylum with their sanity. They all escaped. Whether they have their sanity, we don't know yet."