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John Doyle: Right-wing TV in the cards for Trump era

A small tremor was felt in L.A. last week, and not the usual kind.

The prolific and successful writer-producer Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, The People v. O.J. Simpson) was appearing on a chat show and was asked about the setting for the next season of American Horror Story. "Well, I don't have a title, but the season we begin shooting in June is going to be about the election that we just went through," Murphy said. "So I think that will be interesting for a lot of people."

The idea sounds nutty and wildly far-fetched. American Horror Story is an anthology drama that is, literally, a horror story. It takes a core group of actors and places them in a different but thematically linked story and setting, in each season.

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The first outing in 2011 was a meandering haunted-house drama drenched in melancholy and sexual longing. Jessica Lange stole it and won an Emmy.

The second season was set at an asylum for the criminally insane run by the Roman Catholic Church.

The best, called Coven, was set in a school for young witches in contemporary New Orleans.

Each series is flaky, scary and arch, often drenched in gore and perverse sexual predilections. Each is meant to amuse and shock. How Murphy and writing partner Brad Falchuk might devise a horror scenario anchored in the presidential election is intriguing, no matter how far-fetched it seems.

Some commentators concluded that Murphy was either joking or offering a red herring about the next AHS.

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But anyone familiar with Murphy's ambition and talent must know that he's perfectly capable of pulling off the premise. It might fail, but it would be created and delivered.

U.S. TV remains in a state of nervous panic about the Donald Trump victory.

In January, while in Los Angeles, I wrote about the sheer number of new series arriving early in 2017 that are Obama-era specific in tone, style and issues covered. Also, I noted the reluctance of some writers and producers to have their material seen as politically relevant. Trump's scorched-earth approach to the mainstream media and his constant airing of grievances clearly made many in the TV industry nervous.

The first four months of this year are crucial in the TV business for setting an agenda that reaches into 2018.

This is pilot season, when shows are developed and made, then presented to advertisers in May before arriving on the schedules next fall and early the following year.

While cable-news and late-night satire are thriving thanks to the apparently chaotic Trump administration, there is a lot more to the TV landscape. The traditional networks in particular are ripe for a dose of Trump-era content – shows that reflect the values and aspirations of those Americans who voted Trump into office.

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Already, as the Hollywood Reporter claimed recently, broadcast execs are looking at the success of such shows as Pawn Stars, American Pickers and Duck Dynasty and contemplating the possibility that such content was "an early indicator of how the country was feeling."

According to the trade publications, ABC is looking at a sitcom about two politically divided pundits who fall in love, and right-wing writers are being sought to ensure the right-wing side of the comedy is accurately portrayed.

The same network is developing a new show from Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry which would star Reba McEntire as the sheriff of a town in Kentucky who bristles when an FBI agent of Middle Eastern descent arrives to help solve a terrorist-related crime.

Military-themed dramas are also hot, it seems. NBC is developing For God and Country, which is apparently about military heroes, while a drama called Valor, which is set inside a military base, might be headed for the CW.

Across the networks there is an obvious appetite for comedies about what are usually called "hard-working, blue-collar families." There are at least seven in contention during this pilot season and all are, one assumes, thought by execs to reflect Trump-voter values and designed to appeal to them.

Watching pilot season unfold is always an unnerving occupation. The intricacies of the TV business are essentially unknown to those outside it. Yet there is clearly the beginning of a trend. While there will be plenty of escapism in police procedurals and shows about superheroes, there will be a bedrock of attempted Trump-era TV content to please Trump supporters.

And then there's Murphy's American Horror Story that might be set during the 2016 election. It will air on FX, not a traditional network. It's the most intriguing of all concepts. When asked if there will be a Trump character, Murphy answered coyly, "Maybe."

Actually, if it happens, there had better be.

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