TV dares to scare us every day now. Who needs Halloween?
All of us, apparently. Networks are ramping up eerie episodes and spooky specials like never before. And you know TV gives us only what we want. Halloween now is commonly cited as America's second-most-popular holiday (after Christmas). Take that, Valentine's and Mother's Day.
"I think the popularity stems from how there's no agenda on Halloween. It's just about having fun," says Thomas Vitale, executive vice president of programming at Chiller and Syfy. Both of his NBC-owned cable channels are doing it up big this month -- Syfy is running its annual 31 Days of Halloween, while smaller sibling Chiller debuted the fright flick "Dead Souls" and now premieres the documentary "The American Scream" (Oct. 28 at 8 p.m.), following three families who turn their homes into elaborate houses of horror.
"It's not a religious holiday," Vitale ticks off among Halloween's selling points. "It has no political implications. It's popular among people of all ages. There are no romantic entanglements, no family agenda, no worry about aging."
Just lots of personal catharsis. Don a costume. Be somebody else. Let loose. Scare others, and get scared yourself. "A good scary movie has to have that emotional release," Vitale says. "You come out of it almost feeling cleansed, like all the tension has evaporated from your life."
Heavy, no? So lots of TV treatments keep it light. Sitcoms go gonzo for ghost day, with nearly two dozen having at it for 2012. (Did you even know there were that many sitcoms on the air?) New TV movies jump onboard. Vintage marathons line up ("Roseanne," the queen of scream). And unscripted schedules fill with titles boasting the words "ghost," "scare," "monsters" and "paranormal." In the run-up to Oct. 31, viewers seek the supernatural the way we indulge miracles at Christmastime.
That yearning for magic/catharsis has spilled over from once-yearly stunts like ABC Family's annual 13 Nights of Halloween to weekly doses of danger -- HBO's on-hiatus hit "True Blood," AMC's new third season of "The Walking Dead" and FX's just-back second round of "American Horror Story," subtitled "Asylum." Vitale says, "The attitude has changed both with the audience and with critics," who often used to dismiss such "genre" offerings as being akin to comic books -- something for kids, or adults with arrested development.
Now, these productions are winning accolades, and awards. Vitale, a longtime devotee of fantasy/fright, thinks the mainstreaming seen in scare series on broader-based outlets like AMC and FX reflects new appreciation for the imagination unleashed in these shows.
"I love the fact that 'genre' is looked at not just as popular now, but it's looked at as quality. People used to say, 'Wow, for Syfy that's good,' like 'for genre.' Now, they say, 'That's good.' No more genre qualification."
Switched at Birth (8 p.m., ABC Family), Halloween finale.
Pretty Little Liars (8 p.m., ABC Family), Halloween special.
ABC -- The Middle (8 p.m.), Sue's learner's permit, Brick's Halloween candy; The Neighbors (8:30 p.m.), aliens fear costumed kids; Modern Family (9 p.m.), Halloween open house, costume party; Suburgatory (9:30 p.m.), feminist costumes, witch.
NBC -- Animal Practice (8 p.m.), pet costume contest; Guys With Kids (8:30 p.m.), guest Marissa Jaret Winokur forbids hallway decor.
NBC -- Up All Night (8:30 p.m.), guest Sean Hayes creates haunted house; The Office (9 p.m.), Stephen Colbert guests; Parks and Recreation (9:30 p.m.), guest Lucy Lawless' girls go trick-or-treating.
NBC -- Mockingbird Lane (8 p.m.), Bryan Singer directs hour pilot of "Munsters" darker reboot with Jerry O'Connell, Portia de Rossi, Eddie Izzard; Grimm (9 p.m., NBC; midnight, Telemundo), "La Llorona" bizarre abductions, neighborhood bully.
Animated special -- Hoops & Yoyo's Haunted Halloween (7 p.m., Hallmark)
CBS -- Hawaii Five-0 (10 p.m.), Halloween ritualistic killing
Fox -- Raising Hope (8 p.m.), "gay Christmas" at bar; Ben and Kate (8:30 p.m.), Kate breaks out of character, giveaway candy; New Girl (9 p.m.), Jess plays zombie at haunted house; The Mindy Project (9:30 p.m.), stressed over perfect costume.
CBS -- Let's Make a Deal (10 a.m.), Wayne as Run DMC, Halloween-themed Zonks; The Price Is Right (11 a.m.), Drew as carnival ringmaster, spooky prizes.
CBS -- Blue Bloods (10 p.m.), Halloween stabbing leads to voodoo.
VINTAGE TV EPISODES
Roseanne (late Saturday, Oct. 27, 2:30-6 a.m.; early Sunday, Oct. 28, 6-10 a.m., TV Land) -- TV's Halloween queen gets ghouly like nobody else.
Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town (Sunday noon-4 p.m., IFC)
Goosebumps (Monday 4-8 p.m., Hub)
The Twilight Zone, 1985 (Tuesday 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., Chiller)
Tales From the Darkside (Wednesday 9 a.m.-
5 p.m., Chiller)
Dead Set (Oct. 28, 1-4 p.m., IFC)
R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour (Oct. 28, 4-7 p.m., also Oct. 31, 4-6 p.m., Hub)
Dark Shadows, 1991 (Oct. 29, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Chiller)
Dead Like Me (Oct. 30, 7 p.m.-5 a.m., Chiller)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Oct. 31, 5 a.m.-Nov. 1, 8 a.m., Antenna TV)
AMC FearFest (continues through Oct. 31) -- Kevin Smith hosts this year, spotlighting big-screen series "Halloween" (Monday-Wednesday, also Oct. 31), "From Dusk Till Dawn" (Thursday-Friday), "Predator" (Oct. 27), "Friday the 13th" (Oct. 29-30)
Edgar Allan Poe (Wednesday 8 p.m.-6 a.m., TCM) -- Four decades of adaptations: Roger Corman's "The Raven," 1930s "Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Black Cat," "The Tell-Tale Heart," '60s Europe's "Spirits of the Dead," "Dead Men Walk" (1943).
Rise of the Zombies (Saturday, Oct. 27 at 9 p.m., Syfy) -- NEW: Plague survivors seek cure for disease, with LeVar Burton, Danny Trejo
The Good Witch's Charm (Saturday at 9 p.m., Hallmark) -- Catherine Bell is back.
Fright flicks (Oct. 27, TCM) -- All-day vintage faves include "Cat People," "Village of the Damned," "House of Wax," leading into prime-time mind games like "Diabolique."
Shock-docs (Oct. 28, Chiller) -- Clip fests all day salute "scream queens," creepy kids, truth behind fright films.
Halloween titles (Oct. 30-31, TCM) -- Nonstop chills from Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. run the gamut: Lon Chaney silents and Tod Browning's "Freaks," to '70s faves "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "House of Dark Shadows."
Family frights (Oct. 31, 5 a.m.-12:30 a.m., Encore Family) -- All-day family flicks start and end with "Young Frankenstein" spoof.
Universal horror (Oct. 31, 8 p.m.-6 a.m., TCM) -- Studio-era classics: "Frankenstein," "Son of Frankenstein," "The Wolf Man," "The Mummy," "The Mummy's Hand," "Island of Lost Souls," "The Invisible Man."
Dead Souls (Oct. 31, 9 p.m., Chiller) -- NEW: Old forces unleashed in newly inherited home, with Jesse James, Bill Moseley.
The American Scream (Sunday at 8 and 10 p.m., midnight and 2 a.m.; Oct. 31 at 5 p.m., Chiller) -- Award-winning docu-portrait of three families who go all out with their Halloween decor.
Face Off (Oct. 31 at 10 p.m., Syfy) -- Viewers choose Season 3's fright makeup champion, announced live here, by voting after Oct. 30s 9 p.m. episode. (Catch-up marathons Tuesday 1 p.m.-midnight and Oct. 30 at 11 a.m.-10 p.m.)
Paranormal Witness (Wednesday 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Syfy)
Monster tech, real Dracula, more (Saturday, Oct. 27, 8 a.m.-7 p.m., History)
Ghost Adventures (Oct. 27, 4 p.m.-4 a.m., Travel)
Making Monsters (Oct. 28, 6-10 p.m., Travel)
Scare Tactics (Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m.-4 a.m., Syfy)
Ghosts, vampires, deadly legends, more (Oct. 31, 7 a.m.-6 a.m., Smithsonian)
MonsterQuest, corpse tech, more (Oct. 31, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., History)
Ghost Hunters (Oct. 31, 9 a.m.-10 p.m., Syfy)
Most Terrifying Places in America (Oct. 31, 4-7 p.m., Travel)
Halloween Wars (Oct. 31, 7-11 p.m., Food)