The 'Scream' Showrunners on Going 'A Little 'Psycho'
How the second season of the slasher TV show is all about the characters, and "A love of them surviving and the horror of them being killed."
Season 1 of MTV’s Scream: The TV Series was a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. Fans of teeny-bopper dramas tuned in to watch the budding high school romances and gossip of Lakewood High, while horror fans watched it all play out as the students were picked off, one by one. All of it was inspired by the slasher movie aesthetic of director Wes Cravens popular Scream film series, but it was a tough balance. The blood and guts seemed to scare away the tweens, and the lovey dovey high school stuff annoyed the horror hounds. It wasn’t a total wash, since the show faithfully stuck to the self-referential, blood-filled whodunit narrative that made the movies such big hits. But something needed to change: enter Michael Gans and Richard Register.
Gans and Register — who previously worked on shows like MTV’s Celebrity Deathmatch and the gymnastics drama Make It Or Break It — took over as showrunners for Season 2 of Scream: The TV Series, and set about making some changes. Anyone who watched the Season 2 premiere knows they weren’t joking around. Lead characters Emma (Willa Fitzgerald), Audrey (Bex Taylor-Klaus), Noah (John Karna), Kieran (Amadeus Serafini), and Brooke (Carlson Young) had to say goodbye to Lakewood’s lovable lothario, Jake (Tom Maden), who was gutted by a new killer who’s taken up the mantle of Ghostface’s grotesque reign of terror.
Inverse spoke to Gans and Register about taking narrative risks, doing horror on TV, and how they can’t resist a reference to Duckie from Sixteen Candles.
RIP Jake. Was that always the plan?
Michael Gans: We had to do it. If you don’t kill main characters then no one is in danger. Anyone can die at any given time now on our show. We always tell ourselves, we can’t write characters to die, you have to write them to live.
Richard Register: Jake just fit in with the killer’s MO at this point and it’s also about how it impacts the remaining Lakewood Five through the rest of the season.
Was it tough saying goodbye to that character?
MG: The tragic beauty of the slasher genre is to see the light go out of somebody’s eyes when you care about them. When Tatum dies in the original movie you’re like, “No, not her!” It just makes you want to cry. You have to achieve that every time, and we had to care about whoever gets killed.
RR: We had to take out Tom Maden to lunch before we told him.
MG: I can say though that he’s not completely gone…
You’re the new showrunners on Scream for Season 2. Did you want to make major changes or minor tweaks?
MG: You have to have a little bit of both. [Season 1 showrunner] Jill Blotevogel did an amazing job, and I think that’s why we were so excited to come into this one. It’s a complicated thing to maintain a slasher story as a TV series. We wanted to make sure to keep the mythology alive, and that we followed the characters naturally. We wanted to change the pace of the story a little bit, and we also wanted it so that people weren’t sure of what the episode was going to be every week.
It’s a different person doing the killing now, but we were definitely excited about bringing psychological elements into it in the aftermath of what happened in the first season and making it a little Psycho.
How will those psychological elements play into the fact that there’s a new killer? Did you want to use that as the main mystery of the show?
RR: It’s nothing supernatural. We had to keep the idea that Scream is in the slasher genre, and that someone has snapped and started killing people. It’s all rooted in a psychological twistedness of human capability. Ultimately that’s more horrifying than a supernatural situation.
MG: I think you have to consider the fact that Kevin Williamson, who wrote the original movie, also wrote Dawson’s Creek. Scream should revolve around the characters but use the slasher genre to magnify struggles and conflicts and sins that they have in their everyday life.
How did you want to strike a balance between the show’s Dawson’s Creek teen melodrama versus the horror?
MG: There was a point in the horror genre in the ‘50s where they had to place these moral messages in there. So there’s an element of horror that’s like a morality play. That’s the thing you have to embrace with Scream. It’s gotta be scary, it’s gotta have a meta element, it’s gotta be fun and sexy, but at the same time it also has to have a deeper core. That’s how we approached it.
Season 2 starts off with a meta scene in a movie theater, which is reference to Wes Craven’s Scream 2. Did you want to take specific cues from Scream films, or at this point did you want to branch off into your own territory more?
RR: As huge fans of Wes Craven and the franchise, there’s certain things that are trademarks of Scream that you have to carry on. Even though we helped create a new mythology and cast of characters, there is a particular wicked wink that Scream as a franchise has that’s completely essential.
Because Scream is so meta, were you inspired by any particular movies when planning out the second season of the show?
RR: Definitely! All the episode titles of the second season are named after horror films that we feel bear a resemblance to each episode. Outside of horror, we also needed to be inspired by something like the teen romance genre.
MG: With the teen soap genre it had to be good storytelling that’s as honest as you can make it. We should be winking at Dawson’s Creek, and there are certain things taken from My So-Called Life. Even Saved by the Bell. Also all the John Hughes constantly inform our work at all times. You can’t do a teen genre show and not reference Duckie from Sixteen Candles.
He’s a great reference for Noah.
RR: This isn’t a spoiler necessarily, but we do have a romantic situation for Noah coming this season.
Do you worry about keeping the story going? I know there was some talk of potentially making Scream into an anthology series.
MG: It has to constantly grow and evolve because that’s the nature of the world of the show. It has to challenge itself. You’ve got to hand it to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk because they do those anthology shows and they’re great.
I will say it’s harder to do what we’re doing because the serialization is harder to keep going. It requires itself to be a never-ending story about this group of people. Some live or die, and the new ones come in and they live or die. There will be an end date, but you have to believe in the characters well enough to keep their story alive.
Is that what fans should enjoy about Season 2?
MG: I would encourage you to enjoy both emotional extremes: a love of them surviving and the horror of them being killed.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity