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Pilot (American Horror Story)

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American Horror Story episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Ryan Murphy
Brad Falchuk
Featured music
Production code 1ATS79
Original air date October 5, 2011 (2011-10-05)
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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American Horror Story (season 1)
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"Pilot" is the first episode and the series premiere of the television series American Horror Story, which premiered on the network FX on October 5, 2011. The episode was co-written by series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk and directed by Murphy. Falchuk and Murphy had previously collaborated on the Fox musical comedy-drama Glee.

In this episode, the Harmon family – Ben (Dylan McDermott), Vivien (Connie Britton) and Violet (Taissa Farmiga) – move from Boston to Los Angeles after Vivien gives birth to a stillborn baby and Ben has an affair with one of his students. The family moves to a restored mansion, unaware that the home is haunted. While Vivien tries to deal with intrusive neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange), Violet connects with troubled teenager Tate (Evan Peters).

In the United States, the series premiere achieved a viewership of 3.18 million. The episode garnered a 1.6 rating in the 18–49 demographic, translating to 2.0 million viewers according to Nielsen Media Research. This made the episode the network's best series premiere ever. Critical reviews of the pilot episode were mostly positive, with Metacritic awarding it 62 out of 100 points. This episode is rated TV-MA (LSV).



A young Addie (Katelyn Reed) stares up at a mansion, as twins (Kai and Bodhi Schulz) approach the house with baseball bats. Addie warns them not to enter the house. She tells them that if they go inside, they will die. They brush off her warning, and proceed to enter the house. Entering the basement, they find a number of specimen jars containing animal remains and human fetuses, as well as bloody surgical tools. Complaining of the smell, one of the twins starts walking back upstairs until he realizes his brother has gone silent. He walks back to find him gasping for air, his throat slit. A quick moving figure then attacks the other brother off-screen.


The Harmon family moves from Boston to Los Angeles to escape their painful past. Ben, a psychiatrist, struggles to regain the trust of his wife, Vivien, after having an affair with one of his students. Still recovering from giving birth to a stillborn baby boy, Vivien senses that something is wrong with the house while dealing with the intrusive neighbor Constance and her daughter Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who has Down syndrome.

Violet, the Harmon's teenage daughter, starts her first day at her new school and is bullied by a group of girls. While investigating the attic, Ben and Vivien find a latex gimp suit. Ben starts seeing patients out of his home. One of those patients, a possibly psychotic boy named Tate, strikes up a relationship with Violet. But Tate goes too far while trying to help with her bullying problem. Violet tells him to leave and never return, but it seems that something in the house is responsible for what happened. Vivien rehires the old housekeeper, Moira (Frances Conroy), whom Ben only sees as a young and seductive maid (Alexandra Breckenridge). That night, Ben and Vivien fight over their problems before they make love.

While sleepwalking, Ben is drawn to the stove in the kitchen, appearing to try to burn down the house, but Constance stops him. Vivien is approached by a person she believes to be Ben in the gimp suit, and she has sex with the stranger. Later while out jogging, Ben is approached by Larry (Denis O'Hare), a horribly burned former owner of the house who apparently murdered his entire family by fire after hearing voices – he correctly guesses that Ben had been sleepwalking. Larry warns Ben that if he doesn't get his family out of that house, they will all die, and Ben warns him to stay away. Vivien later learns that she is pregnant.


Conception and development history[edit]

Ryan Murphy, co-writer and director of the pilot episode

Series co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk began working on American Horror Story before their Fox series Glee began production.[1] Murphy wanted to do the opposite of what he'd done previously and thus began his work on the series. He stated: "We're doing some squeaky clean, sweet, optimistic, non-cynical piece, I wanted to do something that sorta tapped into the different side of my personality."[2][3] 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. He said: "You want people to be a little bit off balance afterwards."[4] The dark tone of the series was influenced by the 1970s ABC soap opera Dark Shadows, which Murphy's grandmother forced him to watch when he was younger to toughen him up.[5] In addition, the series draws inspiration from classic horror films such as Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.[6]

In February 2011, FX officially announced that it had ordered a pilot for a possible series from Murphy and Falchuk, with both as episode writers and Murphy as director. Dante Di Loreto was announced as executive producer. Production on the series began in April 2011.[7] On July 18, 2011, FX officially announced the project had been picked up to series.[8] On August 3, 2011, it was announced that Tim Minear, Jennifer Salt, James Wong and Jessica Sharzer had joined the series as writers.[9]

Casting and filming[edit]

Casting announcements began in March 2011, with Connie Britton first to be cast, portraying female lead Vivien Harmon.[10] Britton stated that she took a risk in taking the role of Vivien. When Ryan Murphy presented the role to her he said: "This is something we've never seen you do before. It will be turning what you've just been doing on its ear." She was intrigued by what he had presented her and ultimately decided to take the part.[11] Denis O'Hare joined the cast in late March as Larry Harvey.[12] Jessica Lange joined the cast in April as Constance, marking her first regular role on television.[13] Lange was attracted to the role because it didn't require a 22 episode commitment. "That was huge for me!" she said. "I wasn't about to commit to, you know, six months. It was cable, rather than network...I've been offered network [shows] before, and determined not to do it, just because I can't make that kind of time commitment."[14]

Dylan McDermott was cast as the lead, Ben Harmon, in late April 2011. His character was initially described as "a handsome and masculine but sensitive therapist who loves his family but has hurt his wife."[15] McDermott stated that he wanted to do the role to break away from his previous role as Bobby Donnell in the ABC series The Practice. "This was exactly why I wanted to do this show – to change it up and do a different kind of character," he said. "People think of me as the guy from The Practice...I wanted to turn that [notion] on its head and hopefully I'm doing that [with this show]."[16]

In May 2011, Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters were the last lead actors to be cast, portraying Violet Harmon and Tate Langdon, respectively.[17] Farmiga said that she loved Violet "immediately" and that "she had spunk to her, she had attitude."[18] Ryan Murphy has described Tate as the "true monster" of the series, adding: "To Evan's great credit and the credit of the writers, I think Evan's done an amazingly difficult job making a monster sympathetic."[19]

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 around 1908 by Alfred Rosenheim, the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Tudor or Collegiate Gothic-style single family home was previously used as a convent.[20][21] The series is filmed on sets that are an exact replica of the house.[22] Details such as Lewis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows, and hammered bronze light fixtures, were re-created to preserve the look of the house.[20]


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.[23] 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, entitled "Cello", "Baby", "Couples", "Coffin", "Lying Down", "Fire", "Stairs", "Melt", "Red Cello" and "Rubber Bump".[24]


In its original American broadcast, the premiere of American Horror Story was seen by an estimated 3.18 million household viewers and gained a 1.6 ratings share among adults aged 18–49, according to Nielsen Media Research.[25] These were the best numbers FX had ever received for a series premiere.[26] Taken together with equally strong numbers for the station's returning original series – Sons of Anarchy, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League – the episode helped make October the most-watched month on FX ever.[27] The pilot episode aired on November 7, 2011 across Europe and Latin America on Fox International Channels, ranking #1 or #2 among all Pay-TV in most metered markets across Latin America and Europe for its time slot. In the UK, it premiered on non-terrestrial channel FX, with 128,200 viewers.[28] The episode was seen by 3.2 million viewers total in 59 countries.[28]

The pilot episode scored 62 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 30 reviews.[29] Ken Tucker from Entertainment Weekly awarded the pilot episode a B+, stating: "American Horror Story is pretty much all scare, all the time: a whole lotta screams, sex, jolts, mashed faces, psychotic behavior, and dead babies."[30] Chuck Barney of the San Jose Mercury News said: "Most TV shows, after all, quickly fade from memory. This one will haunt your dreams."[31] Hank Stuever from The Washington Post said in his review that "overdoing things is one of Murphy's trademark flaws, but this show has a captivating style and giddy gross-outs."[32] IGN TV's Matt Fowler wrote that the pilot episode contained a lot of "style over substance" but that it was also "totally watchable." Fowler went on to write that it was a "haunting, subversive television experiment" and enjoyed the references to Amityville Horror, The Shining and Twin Peaks.[33] Not all reviews were favorable. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix gave the series a D-, saying: "It is so far over the top that the top is a microscopic speck in its rearview mirror, and so full of strange sounds, sights and characters that you likely won't forget it — even though many of you will wish you could."[34]


  1. ^ Stack, Tim (October 5, 2011). "'American Horror Story' co-creator Ryan Murphy talks premiere, his favorite scene, and identity of Rubber Man -- EXCLUSIVE". Entertainment Weekly. 
  2. ^ Stack, Tim (October 5, 2011). "'American Horror Story' co-creator Ryan Murphy talks premiere, his favorite scene, and identity of Rubber Man -- EXCLUSIVE". Entertainment Weekly. 
  3. ^ Nash, Steve (November 5, 2011). "American Horror Story Interview: "People Want To Be Scared"". SFX. 
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  15. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (April 29, 2011). "Dylan McDermott To Star In Ryan Murphy's FX Pilot 'American Horror Story'". Deadline. Retrieved April 29, 2011. 
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  21. ^ Kudler, Adrian Glick (October 4, 2011). "American Horror Story Gave Alfred Rosenheim House in Country Club Park an Early Halloween Costume". Curbed. Retrieved October 13, 2011. 
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  27. ^ Seidman, Robert (November 1, 2011). "October is FX's Most-Watched Month In Its History". TV by the Numbers. 
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  34. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (October 4, 2011). "Review: FX's 'American Horror Story' an overwrought mess". HitFix. 

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