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American Horror Story

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American Horror Story

American Horror Story
The title written in a distinctive font, white on black
Title card from the first season
Created by
Theme music composer
Composer(s) James S. Levine
Mac Quayle
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 4
No. of episodes 45 (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
  • Alexis Martin Woodall
  • Patrick McKee
  • Robert M. Williams Jr.
  • Bradley Buecker
  • Doc Crotzer
  • Adam Penn (season 4)
Cinematography Christopher Baffa
Michael Goi (season 4)
Camera setup Single camera
Running time 39–63 minutes (per episode)
Production company(s)
Original channel FX
Original run October 5, 2011 (2011-10-05) – present
External links
Official website

American Horror Story is an American horror television series created and produced by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Described as an anthology series, each season is conceived as a self-contained miniseries, following a disparate set of characters and settings, and a storyline with its own "beginning, middle, and end."[2]

The first season, subsequently subtitled Murder House, takes place in Los Angeles, California during the year 2011 and centers on a family that moves into a house haunted by its deceased former occupants. The second season, subtitled Asylum, takes place in Massachusetts during the year 1964 and follows the stories of the inhabitants of an institution for the criminally insane. The third season, subtitled Coven, takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana during the year 2013 and follows a coven of witches who face off against those who wish to destroy them. The fourth season, subtitled Freak Show, takes place in Jupiter, Florida during the year 1952 and centers around one of the few remaining American freak shows.[3]

The series is broadcast on the cable television channel FX in the United States. The first season premiered on October 5, 2011, and concluded on December 21, 2011. The second season premiered on October 17, 2012, and concluded on January 23, 2013. The third season premiered on October 9, 2013, and concluded on January 29, 2014.[4][5][6] On November 6, 2013, FX renewed American Horror Story for a fourth season of 13 episodes, which began on October 8, 2014.[7] On October 13, 2014, FX renewed American Horror Story for a 13-episode fifth season.

American Horror Story has been well received by television critics. The repertory cast have been critically acclaimed, particularly Jessica Lange,[8][9][10] who received the Emmy Award, the Golden Globe Award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance.[11][12][13] The series draws consistently high ratings for the FX network, with its first season being the biggest new cable series of 2011.[14]


Season 1: Murder House (2011)

The first season, retroactively titled American Horror Story: Murder House,[4][15][16] is about infidelity.[2] The story takes place in 2011 and follows the Harmon family: psychiatrist Ben (Dylan McDermott), his wife Vivien (Connie Britton), and their teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), who move from Boston to Los Angeles after Vivien has a miscarriage and Ben has an affair. The Harmons move into a restored mansion and soon encounter the home's former residents, the Langdons – Constance (Jessica Lange) and her two children, Tate (Evan Peters) and Addie (Jamie Brewer) – and the disfigured Larry Harvey (Denis O'Hare). Ben and Vivien try to rekindle their relationship, as Violet, suffering from depression, finds comfort with Tate. The Langdons and Larry frequently influence the Harmons' lives, as the family discovers that the home is haunted by the ghosts of anyone who has ever died on the property.

Season 2: Asylum (2012–13)

The second season, titled American Horror Story: Asylum, is about sanity.[2] The story takes place in 1964 and follows the patients, doctors and nuns who occupy the Briarcliff Mental Institution, founded to treat and house the criminally insane. The wardens who run the institution include the stern Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), her protégé Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) and the founder of the institution, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes). The doctors charged with treating the patients at the asylum include psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) and the sadistic scientist Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell). The patients, many of whom claim to be unjustly institutionalized, include lesbian journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), accused serial killer Kit Walker (Evan Peters), nymphomaniac Shelley (Chloe Sevigny) and alleged murderer Grace Bertrand (Lizzie Brocheré). Briarcliff's inhabitants are routinely subject to supernatural and scientific influences, including demonic possession and extraterrestrial abduction.

Season 3: Coven (2013–14)

The third season, titled American Horror Story: Coven, is about oppression; specifically, the oppression of marginalized groups and female empowerment. After the Salem witch trials, descendants of the witches who survived are nearly extinct and are in danger once again. Those who share this genetic affliction are being subjected to strange and violent attacks. A mysterious all-girls boarding school has opened in New Orleans to protect and house young women who carry this unique bloodline, and keep them from the dangers of the outside world. The long-absent Supreme, and most powerful witch of her generation, Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), arrives to ensure the safety of the Coven, but also to fulfill her own hidden agenda. Fiona's daughter, Cordelia (Sarah Paulson), teaches at the school and welcomes its newest student, Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga), who harbors her own harrowing secret.[17] Events reveal a long-held rivalry between the witches of Salem and the voodoo practitioners of New Orleans, as well as a historic grudge between Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) and socialite serial killer Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates). Other themes include witchcraft, voodoo, racism, and family, such as the relationships between mothers and daughters. The season is set primarily in the modern day and includes flashbacks to the early 1970s and the 1830s.[18][19]

Season 4: Freak Show (2014–15)

The fourth season, titled American Horror Story: Freak Show, is about discrimination, particularly people who are classified as "freaks" by the public. The story takes place in 1952 in the quiet town of Jupiter, Florida and follows a struggling freak show led by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange). Decades have passed since the public has looked upon freak shows as a form of entertainment, but Elsa dreams of finding a home for her "monsters", as well as her own fame. When conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson) are taken to the hospital, Elsa sees her chance to finally drum up some business for her sideshow, hoping the two sisters will save her troupe once and for all. Other members include Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters), a boy born with syndactyly who dreams of leaving the carny life behind and living a normal life. Jimmy's mother, the bearded lady Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), is Elsa's second in command and maintains law and order under the tent. A Strongman from Ethel's troubled past named Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis), and his three-breasted wife, Desiree Dupree (Angela Bassett), make waves when they arrive at the sideshow. In a time when the era of television is beginning to reign high above sideshow acts, these individuals must overcome those who persecute them based on their looks. However, as events unfold, it is revealed that multiple dark entities have taken up residence in Jupiter, with all of their eyes being set on the freaks.

Season 5

FX has renewed American Horror Story for a 13 episode fifth season, which will premiere sometime in October 2015.[20][21]



What you saw in the finale was the end of the Harmon house. The second season of the show will be a brand-new home or building to haunt. Just like this year, every season of this show will have a beginning, middle and end. [The second season] won't be in L.A. It will obviously be in America, but in a completely different locale.

— Murphy on American Horror Story's anthology format.[22]

Creators Murphy and Falchuk began working on American Horror Story before their Fox series Glee began production. Murphy wanted to do the opposite of what he had done previously and thus began his work on the series. He stated: "I went from Nip/Tuck to Glee, so it made sense that I wanted to do something challenging and dark. And I always had loved, as Brad had, the horror genre. So it just was a natural for me."[23] Falchuk was intrigued by the idea of putting a different angle on the horror genre, stating that their main goal in creating the series was to scare viewers. "You want people to be a little bit off balance afterwards," he said.[24]

In February 2011, FX officially announced that it had ordered a pilot for a possible series from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, with both Murphy and Falchuk writing and Murphy directing. Dante Di Loreto was announced as executive producer. Production on the series began in April 2011.[25] In July 2011, FX officially announced the project had been picked up to series.[26]

From the beginning, Murphy and Falchuk planned that each season of the series would tell a different story.[22] After the first season finale aired, Murphy spoke of his plans to change the cast and location for the second season.[27] He did say, however, that some actors who starred in the first season would be returning. "The people that are coming back will be playing completely different characters, creatures, monsters, etc. [The Harmons'] stories are done. People who are coming back will be playing entirely new characters," he announced.[22] In November 2012, FX chief executive, John Landgraf, described the unique format of the series stating: "[T]he notion of doing an anthological series of miniseries with a repertory cast – has proven groundbreaking, wildly successful and will prove to be trendsetting."[4]

At the 2013 PaleyFest, Falchuk compared the series to horror films: "It does demand a little bit of compassion at the end because you fall in love with these characters in a different way than you would in a movie," he said. "If you want to kill everybody in a movie except one person, you can kind of get away with that, but if you're looking to do a horror TV show, you have a different responsibility to the characters because the audience has a different affection for them."[28]

Murphy then explained the process of planning a series' season takes about a year. "We come up with story first and then we come up with the characters," he said. "It is a repertory company, so we'll move people around and sometimes there won't yet be a role for somebody. Like when we started [the second season], I really had no idea that Dylan [McDermott] would be the person to play Sarah's son, but the deeper we got, I thought, that would work great."[28]


Season 1

Connie Britton was first to be cast, portraying female lead Vivien Harmon.[29] Denis O'Hare joined second as Larry Harvey.[30] Jessica Lange soon followed as Constance, her first regular role on television.[31] Dylan McDermott joined the cast soon after Lange as the male lead Ben Harmon.[32] Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters were the last actors to be added to the main cast, portraying Violet Harmon and Tate Langdon, respectively.[33]

Season 2

In March 2012, Murphy revealed that the second season had been conceptualized around Jessica Lange who portrays Sister Jude, a sadistic nun who runs the asylum.[34] Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe and Zachary Quinto also return as main cast members in the second season.[35] Peters portrays Kit Walker, an inmate accused of murdering his wife.[36] Paulson portrays Lana, a lesbian reporter who gets committed to the asylum because of her sexuality and intent to snoop around the sanitorium.[37] Rabe's character is Sister Mary Eunice, clumsy second-in-charge to Sister Jude.[38] Quinto portrays Dr. Thredson, a psychiatrist at the asylum.[39][40] Lizzie Brocheré stars as Grace Bertrand, a character described originally as "a fierce, ferocious, extremely sexual, and dangerous wild-child sexpot", but the role was later heavily revamped.[41][42] James Cromwell co-stars as Dr. Arthur Arden, who proclaims to be in charge of the asylum and performs dark experiments on its patients.[43][44][45] Joseph Fiennes starred as Monsignor Timothy Howard, a possible love interest for Sister Jude.[45][46][47]

Season 3

Series executive producers and co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have stated that, as with the second season, "many actors" will return in different roles, beginning with Jessica Lange.[16] Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson were confirmed to return, portraying Kyle Spencer and Cordelia Foxx, respectively. Murphy added that Lange would portray a "real glamour-cat lady", later revealed to be named Fiona Goode.[48] Taissa Farmiga, Violet in the first season, starred as Zoe Benson, a character that is involved in a prominent romance during the season.[49] Lily Rabe co-starred as Misty Day.[50] Series recurring actress Frances Conroy joined as a main cast member, playing the character of Myrtle Snow.[49] Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates was confirmed to co-star. It was first reported that she would portray "a woman who, at the start, is Lange's character's best friend, but will become her worst enemy", but this was altered.[51] Murphy stated that Bates' character will be "five times worse than [her] Misery character" and is also inspired by a "true event". She portrayed Madame Delphine LaLaurie, an immortal racist.[52] It was announced in May 2013 that Emma Roberts had been added to the cast. Roberts played Madison Montgomery, a "self-involved party girl".[53]

Season 4

Ryan Murphy confirmed that Jessica Lange would be returning for a fourth season, although in a reduced capacity. It was later revealed she would be playing Freak Show owner Elsa Mars.[54] Kathy Bates returns in a main role, portraying bearded lady Ethel Darling.[55] In January 2014, Murphy revealed that Coven cast member Patti LuPone was invited back.[56] On March 29, 2014, Murphy announced that Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Denis O'Hare, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidibe, and Jamie Brewer would all return for the fourth season.[57] Paulson portrays conjoined sisters Bette and Dot Tattler; Peters portrays "Lobster Boy" Jimmy Darling; Conroy plays the well-off Gloria Mott; Bassett portrays three-breasted hermaphrodite Desiree Dupree; and O'Hare plays Stanley, a conman working with Roberts' Maggie Esmerelda. At PaleyFest 2014, it was revealed that Michael Chiklis would be joining the cast as Dell Toledo, the father of Jimmy, ex-husband of Ethel, and current husband of Desiree.[58] Finn Wittrock later joined the main cast as Conroy's spoiled son, Dandy Mott.


Season 1

The pilot episode was shot on location in a house in Country Club Park, Los Angeles, California, which serves as the haunted house and crime scene in the series. Designed and built in 1910 by Alfred Rosenheim, the president of the American Institute of Architects' Los Angeles chapter, the Tudor or Collegiate Gothic-style single family home was previously used as a convent.[59][60] The first season was filmed on sets which are an exact replica of the house.[61] Details such as Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows and hammered bronze light fixtures were re-created to preserve the look of the house.[59]

Season 2

Production and shooting for the second season began in late July 2012 for a scheduled premiere in mid October.[62] The exteriors for the second season were filmed in Hidden Valley, Ventura County, California, a rural area outside Los Angeles.[63]

Season 3

Principal photography for the third season began on July 23, 2013,[64] in New Orleans, Louisiana.[6][65] It was first reported that the season would film in multiple locations, but filming primarily took place in New Orleans.[66]

Season 4

Principal photography for season 4 began on July 15, 2014, in New Orleans, though the story takes place in Jupiter, Florida.

Title sequence

American Horror Story '​s title screens offer vague hints to important plot elements and events that compose each season. For Murder House, Murphy described the sequence as a mini-mystery and stated that: "By the time you see the ninth episode of this season, every image in that title sequence will be explained," establishing the purpose of the title sequence for future seasons.[67]

The opening title sequence was created by Kyle Cooper and his company Prologue. He also created the title sequence for the AMC series The Walking Dead and the 1995 film Seven. The theme music was composed by sound designer Cesar Davila-Irizarry and musician Charlie Clouser.[68] The cinematography was done by Juan Ruiz Anchía and the editing by Gabriel J. Diaz.

For the first season, the sequence is set in the Harmons' basement and includes images of postmortem young children, fetuses in jars, skulls, a christening dress, a nurse's uniform, and a figure holding a pair of bloody hedge clippers. A photo of alleged axe murderer Lizzie Borden is shown.

The second season's opening sequence is done by the same creative team. "We are shooting a new title sequence with the same team that did last year's," series creator Ryan Murphy said. "The song may stay... not sure."[69] The song was kept, and the new title sequence was set around the Asylum, utilising shots of inmates raving and surgeons operating on patients with bandages obscuring their faces. Elements include a young girl walking backwards on her hands and feet up a staircase and a shot of the Virgin Mary's smile changing from one of benevolence to one of spite.

The third season's opening sequence keeps the same song, and this sequence is the first one to be filmed primarily outside and not in an enclosed location. Shots include figures wearing black robes and capirotes, a bony-skeleton creature with wings and shots of dead goats, the Minotaur from the season also appears. For the first time, there are actual backgrounds that appear with the actor names instead of an all-black background, some of these images include witches hanging and Santa Muerte. Other elements include a black man with piercing eyes and a disturbing smile as well as voodoo dolls. The final shot continues after the figures in black capirotes seize one of their own who is later seen burning at a stake where young, dress-clad witches dance around.

The fourth season's opening sequence changed things up, the series theme music remains intact albeit with an added carnival-like soundscape. The sequence is composed of both CGI and stop-motion animation and features strange characters such as a skeleton chimera of a human being and an elephant riding a bicycle, a skeleton of what appears to be a single head but two bodies, a devil-like creature, a boy in a wheel chair with deformed legs, a character with severe syndactyly of the hands and feet, a clown who can twist his head around, a woman with a third leg where her genitalia should be, and a demonic cymbal-banging monkey toy. There are also shots of side show attractions like the Human Blockhead, knife throwing and sword swallowing. The main recurring element features a balloon twister popping balloons with a knife.

The title sequence for all seasons of the show use a typeface that very closely resembles a style for which Charles Rennie Mackintosh was known.


As part of the promotion for the series, FX launched a "House Call" campaign, in which viewers at home could sign up and come face-to-face with a character from the series.[70] Prior to the series premiere, FX released several clues to shine light on the series. They were offered on the show's official YouTube channel. Ten clues were released.[71] In September 2011, FX launched a website which allows visitors to tour the Murder House throughout the decades and look for clues.[72]

In August 2012, the first promo for the second season was released on the American Horror Story Facebook page entitled "Special Delivery", in which a nun carries a couple of buckets filled with body parts through a field. As a church bell rings, the nun empties one bucket's bloody contents, leaving the empty bucket behind, and resumes her trek.[73] Over 20 subsequent teasers were released.[74] Four photos were also released on[75] Two televised teasers, titled "Meet the Residents", were released on August 31, 2012. They feature the patients and some staff (such as Dr. Thredson, played by Zachary Quinto, and Sister Mary Eunice, played by Lily Rabe) lying in twin beds and dealing with their individual issues as the heads of the asylum (Jessica Lange, Joseph Fiennes and James Cromwell) look on. The song "Que Sera, Sera", mixed with the show's theme music, plays.[76]


The series premiered on October 5, 2011, and is broadcast on the cable television channel FX in the United States. In November 2011, it premiered internationally on the respective countries' Fox International Channels.[77] The second season premiered on October 17, 2012, and concluded January 23, 2013. The third season premiered on October 9, 2013, and concluded on January 29, 2014. The fourth season premiered on October 8, 2014.


Critical reception

Season 1 (Murder House)

The first season of American Horror Story received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator [82] The Los Angeles Times '​ Mary McNamara gave it a mixed review, stating that it "collapses into camp... upon more than one occasion" but also noting that it is "hard to look away."[83]

Season 2 (Asylum)

The second season, American Horror Story: Asylum, received mostly positive reviews from critics, even more than the first season. Review aggregator [86] Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post said: "It's to the credit of Asylum '​s writers, directors and cast that the emotional pain of the characters often feels as real as their uncertainty and terror."[87] Verne Gay from Newsday gave the season a C grade, stating it "has some good special effects, just not much of a story to hang them on."[88] Linda Stasi of the New York Post thought the season was "over the top," adding: "I need to enter [an asylum] myself after two hours of this craziness."[89]

Season 3 (Coven)

The third season, American Horror Story: Coven, received very positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 81% of 36 critics have given the show a positive review. The site's consensus reads: "A noteworthy ensemble cast combined with creepy storytelling and campy, outrageous thrills make American Horror Story: Coven a potently structured fright-fest."[90] It scored 71 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 24 reviews. It is the highest-rated season of the show on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Despite this, Coven has also been met with largely negative reviews from some critics, mainly in regards to the progression of both the story and certain character arcs in the second half of the season. The A.V. Club gave this season the low rating of a D+, with critic Todd Van DerWerff remarking: "It lurched drunkenly from idea to idea, never settling on one long enough to build anything of worth."[91]

Season 4 (Freak Show)

The fourth season, American Horror Story: Freak Show, has received positive reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 86% of 36 critics have given the season a "certified fresh" review. The site's consensus is: "Though it may turn off new viewers unaccustomed to its unabashed weirdness, Freak Show still brings the thrills, thanks to its reliably stylish presentation and game cast."[92] It scored 69 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 19 "generally favorable" reviews.[93]


The pilot episode gained a 1.6 ratings share among adults aged 18–49 and garnered 3.2 million viewers.[94] These were the best numbers FX had ever received for a series premiere.[95] The episode was seen by 3.2 million viewers total in 59 countries.[96] Ratings increased as the season progressed, with the season finale being watched by 3.22 million viewers and receiving a 1.7 ratings share in the 18–49 demographic.[97] American Horror Story '​s November 2011 Fox International Channels' premiere across Europe and Latin America drew rankings of first or second among all Pay-TV in most metered markets for its time slot. In the UK, it premiered on non-terrestrial channel FX, with 128,200 viewers. The second episode saw an increase of 27%, receiving an overall viewership of 158,700.[98]

The second season's premiere gained a 2.2 18–49 ratings share and was watched by 3.85 million viewers,[99] marking the highest numbers for the series.[100] By the season's sixth episode, the numbers dropped to a series-low 0.9 18–49 ratings share and 1.89 million viewers,[101] however they rebounded to above two million viewers for the subsequent episodes.[102][103] The second season's finale received a 1.3 18–49 ratings share and was watched by 2.29 million viewers.[104]

The fourth season's premiere provided a series high rating and was the most watched telecast in FX's history.[105]

Season Time slot (ET) # Ep. Premiered Ended Viewers
(in millions)
Date Premiere viewers
(in millions)
Date Finale viewers
(in millions)
1 Wednesday 10:00 p.m. 12
October 5, 2011
December 21, 2011
3.22 2.82
2 13
October 17, 2012
January 23, 2013
2.29 2.53
3 13
October 9, 2013
January 29, 2014
4.24 4.00
4 13
October 8, 2014


American Horror Story has won 39 of its 136 award nominations. The franchise has garnered 18 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, with Jessica Lange winning the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie and the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, James Cromwell winning the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie, and Kathy Bates winning the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.[11][106] It received an additional 33 Creative Arts Emmy Award nominations, winning twice for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie,[107] and once each for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special, and Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or Special.[108] It has received five Golden Globe Award nominations, with Lange winning for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film,[12][109] and three Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, with Lange winning for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series.[13] Additional accolades include: the American Film Institute Award for Top Ten Television Program,[110] the Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design,[111] the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Screenplay,[112] two Critics' Choice Television Awards in Acting for Zachary Quinto and Sarah Paulson,[113] the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Miniseries,[114] the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing,[115] a Satellite Award for Best Genre Television Series, and an Honorary Satellite Award for Lange for Outstanding Performance in a TV Series, as well as a Best Actress in a Miniseries nomination.[116]

Other media

Companion series

It was announced on October 7, 2014, that American Horror Story co-creators Murphy and Falchuk would produce a companion series of the franchise entitled American Crime Story. Murphy will also direct the first installment of the 10 episode first season. Like the original series, each season of American Crime Story will be an anthology. The first season will be subtitled The People vs. O. J. Simpson and will chronicle the lives of the men and women involved with the infamous court case. The series will be scripted by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.[117]


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