This installment of Phantom Limbs finds us cutting into the intended third and fourth seasons MTV’s Scream: The TV Series. While the first two seasons of the film series-inspired television slasher followed one particular group of characters whose stories were left unresolved when MTV rebooted the series with the unrelated Scream: Resurrection, the initial plan was for the original cast to continue on through at least two more seasons, culminating in a surprising revelation that out-metas anything seen before in the entire franchise.
Joining us for this talk are Michael Gans and Richard Register, the showrunners of Scream Season 2, who will unveil their intentions for the show’s subsequent arcs, discuss the shocking twist which would have allowed for appearances from the cast of the Scream film series, and reveal why these additional episodes never came to pass.
For the uninitiated, a quick recap of the first two seasons of the Scream TV series.
In the sleepy town of Lakewood, Emma Duval finds herself drawn into a web of murders committed by a slasher sporting a mask patterned after the one once worn by Brandon James, the town’s local urban legend/boogeyman. In addition to Emma, the killer begins targeting our heroine’s friends, including: horror film nerd Noah (think Randy 2.0); outcast and aspiring filmmaker Audrey; popular girl Brooke; Brooke’s boyfriend Jake; Emma’s jock ex-boyfriend Will; and mysterious new student and potential love interest Kieran.
The body count rises over the course of the first season, until the killer is revealed to be Piper Shaw, a podcaster covering the murders who is also Emma’s crazed half sister. Emma and Audrey dispatch Piper, while another killer and more mysteries are teased for the following season.
Speaking of which – Season 2 catches up with the survivors of Piper’s murder spree (Emma, Audrey, Noah, Brooke, Jake and Kieran), now collectively known as the “Lakewood 6”. New characters are introduced, including Zoe, a bright student who takes a romantic interest in Noah (before she’s tragically murdered), and artist and serial killer enthusiast Stavo, who becomes a love interest for Brooke. Once again, the murders start up and bodies begin dropping, with a finale that reveals the season’s killer to be Kieran, unveiled as having been Piper’s accomplice since the beginning.
Season 2 of the Scream TV series was followed up by a two-hour Halloween Special, which featured the core cast caught up in a murder mystery separate from the Brandon James saga, though the imprisoned Kieran was murdered by a slasher in a James mask as a setup for a follow-up season that would sadly never come.
“We are huge fanboys of the material,” Mr. Gans begins, charting how the writing duo of he and Mr. Register found themselves taking the reins of the Scream television series. “That was one of the ways that we wound up getting the project in the first place, taking it over for Season 2.” Gans reveals here that he and Register were approached before original Season 1 showrunners Jill Blotevogel and Jaime Paglia. “Our agent had said, ‘Hey, they’re doing Scream at MTV, if you’re interested in doing it.’ We were on another show called Recovery Road at that moment in time, but she said ‘If you guys want to go in and give your take, you can.’ We were huge fanboys. We’d already pitched a musical version to the Weinstein Company in New York.”
“A musical version of the original movie,” Register clarifies. In fact, Gans and Register would eventually bring a version of this musical to the stage. And yes, dear readers, we will be circling back to that with an upcoming article.
While the writers wound up being unable to take part in Scream‘s first season, they eventually became the showrunners for the second season when MTV and Ms. Blotevogel and Mr. Paglia parted ways over creative differences. Says Gans of their hiring: “I think one of the reasons that we got it was that, even though I don’t think we would have chosen to do the kind of reboot like they did initially with the series and do an entirely different story … we looked at the material and decided to create our story allegiant to everything that appeared on camera in the first season. We felt like, ‘That exists. That is the current canon. It would be no good to throw it out the window.’ So we said, ‘You have to take everything that made it to edit and aired, and live with that as though it’s true. It doesn’t mean everything that was created in the bible of the first season [was canon]. You have to just look at it and say, ‘What’s the story I see?’ And then stay true to that.”
Register agrees. “The fans watched this and how do we stay with that moving forward?”
“So we did take that forward into the next season,” Gans continues. “We did layer in our own take on the meta of it all. And I think our murders were very different than the first season, and also our approach to how to tell the story was different than the first season. There’s a very heavy psychological factor to the second season. But all the way through it, we were living with what the legacy was.”
While the season that Gans and Register brought to the screen was followed up by a two-hour Halloween movie special and then rebooted entirely with a new creative team and cast of characters, the writers reveal that they were originally tasked with developing their own take for how they would follow up their initial run of episodes. “In the course of making a season for that particular production,” Gans says, “we had to create a bible for that season based on the first season, redo that because there were some adjustments to the story based on the network and studio notes … then we had to write a movie that was meant to be an isolated feature that didn’t affect the main storyline. These were the requirements of the network, and the studio to some degree. So in the middle of the second season, we had to write a movie, pitch a third season, and then hint at the four season. Even Bob Weinstein, who is a real whip-cracking, super Louis B. Mayer type…”
“Old school,” Register laughs.
“We were doing that and explained it all to him,” Gans continues, “and he went ‘Oh my god…’ Then we pitched the third season to him and he said, ‘I think we’re going to be working together for many years. The Weinstein Company really was behind it. Unfortunately, MTV was not as behind it…”
So what story would their third and fourth seasons of the Scream TV series have told?
In the wake of Season 2’s revelation that Kieran was the killer, the third season of Scream would have found Emma trying to escape her hometown and distance herself from the surviving members of the Lakewood 6 (Emma, Audrey, Noah and Brooke). The infamy that the killings has brought the group has unnerved our heroine, inspiring a desire to reinvent herself and head off to college. Unfortunately, the murders start up again, dragging her back into Lakewood.
In the meantime, Noah is seeing ghostly visions of Zoe, the young woman he fell in love with in Season 2 before her untimely death. Noah and Zoe discuss the killings, the potential killers, and “the very nature of evil”. This creates the concern that Noah may be losing his grip on reality, and that his conversations with Zoe may be “a ‘Son of Sam listening to his neighbor’s dog’ type situation”. Gans points out that “the question would be, ‘Was he mad, and had he killed everyone because of that?’”
Brooke begins losing her mind as well in the aftermath of Season 2. She and Audrey begin an affair, which sends her boyfriend Stavo spiraling. As Gans and Register note in their pitch, “we wonder if these three – who are somehow clinging together in a three-way relationship – are somehow involved as a murdering trio … adding a third killer to the classic two-killer Scream legacy.”
New characters are introduced, both as potential killers and as victim fodder, becoming important additions alongside the main characters. These additions “evolve as they get killed off”, as suspicion grows that Emma may have finally lost it and become a killer herself. All this even as Noah comes to the “chilling realization that the killer is the only one who is ever really and truly safe.”
While Kieran was murdered by an unknown assailant in a Brandon James mask in Scream‘s one-off Halloween special, the character was initially meant to live. “We pitched this kind of Silence of the Lambs thing,” Gans reveals. “Someone was doing [the killings] at Kieran’s bidding, and the only person he would tell what was going on to was Emma. So she came in, and they had to sit face-to-face, and meanwhile people are being killed. So they’re in a race against time to stop this from happening, all the while she’s sitting with him.”
During these conversations, Kieran would reveal how he and Piper had pulled off all of the previous murders. “Juxtaposed with flashbacks of how it actually happened,” Register notes. Kieran would eventually escape from prison, becoming a threat to our heroes yet again.
Brandon James would also have been introduced in the story, being alive and well, “stalking our characters from the shadows”. He isn’t necessarily presented as a murderer, but he understand what it means to be inextricably linked to murder, which allows for a strange bond to form between he and Emma.
As the season would have barreled toward its conclusion, the killer would have started knocking off all of our favorite characters: Brooke, Stavo, Emma’s mother Maggie, Sheriff Acosta, and even Audrey. “The audience would be losing their minds,” the pitch notes. “‘OHMYGOD, I can’t believe they’re killing everybody off!” During the two-part season finale, the last characters standing would have been Emma, Noah, and the escaped Kieran, all facing off with one another in an abandoned farmhouse just outside of Lakewood. Noah is killed, but Emma gets the drop on Kieran and finally kills him.
Then, as Kieran is shown dead in a pool of his own blood – “CUT!”
Pull back to reveal that we’re on the set of Scream: The Television Series. The actors hug, and mentions of the wrap party are made. “The killer is killed,” Register says, “then we pull back [to reveal it’s a TV production]. Amadeus Serafini [the actor who plays Kieran] walks into his dressing room, and is killed again.” For real, this time.
The fourth season would have carried on with this meta approach, spinning a tale where the actors from the show play themselves. From the pitch: “Willa Fitzgerald, Bex Taylor-Klaus and John Karna all track a real life version of the Lakewood 6 that was stolen and woven into the series by the desperate original writer.” A killer in an original Ghostface mask, obsessed with the Scream franchise, would begin attacking various folks involved in the entire “Scream entertainment universe”, whether they’re writers, directors, producers, actors, etc.
And yes, this would have opened the door for actors from the original film franchise to make appearances on the show, guest starring as themselves, all as the cast of the Scream TV series would be attempting to determine who is behind this slate of real life murders as the body count continues to rise. “The idea was to blow the walls off the television show and make it go super-meta,” Gans laughs. “That whole idea of that ending was that then you would pull out and then all of the Scream universe, the real Scream universe – the actual actors from it, and the writers, and the producers, and the crew who had made the original Scream movies were available to the story. The killer would have been someone who was obsessed with Scream who was stalking the cast.”
But was there ever the possibility of marrying the television and film universes, aside from the meta season they’d pitched? Gan explains that there was another in-canon crossover option that they’d considered. “There was one version where there was a link [between the murders depicted in the show and the events of the film series], where they literally go to find Gale [Weathers, Courteney Cox’s character from the Scream film franchise] to ask about the murders. You’d go to the character.”
As fans know, Scream: The TV Series would go on to have that previously mentioned Halloween special, a two-hour movie that featured a new slate of killings unrelated to the Brandon James saga, aside from featuring our main cast. The following season, whatever form it would have taken, is teased when another killer in a Brandon James mask murders Kieran in prison, setting up yet another “whodunit” that would sadly go unexplored. The series would come back to the small screen as Scream: Resurrection, featuring an entirely new cast and story (and a killer in a classic Ghostface mask), before the franchise returned to the big screen with this year’s box office success Scream.
So why didn’t the original plan developed by Gans and Register come to fruition? Gans explains: “The head of drama at MTV thought that the audience would feel that was a betrayal, because they had fallen in love with these characters. We said, ‘Well, we’re going to base the characters on the actors, who will be playing themselves-ish.’ So in a way, we would be giving them those characters maxed out. They will have come to know Willa Fitzgerald as Emma for two seasons, so it’s giving them ‘Super Emma.’ ‘The interior life revealed’ of Emma, or Noah, or whatever ‘X’ character. That’s how we saw it, because we have just a close relation to them. And I think it’s true with Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox and David Arquette. We have a super deep relationship with them that has something to do with more than just the character they play in the movie, but who they are in reality. So that was where we had wanted to go with that next season.”
Given that the Halloween special did set up its own mystery, are Gans and Register privy to where that story would have gone? Sadly, no. “We left before we got into redoing that third season. Our relationship [with the series] ended with that movie at the end of the second season.” Even still, did they have any idea who might have donned that mask and dispatched Kieran at the end of the special? “We had talked about several different versions of it,” Gans admits. “The tough thing about it was that the character that we were thinking of making [the killer] was going to be a brand new character. This is one of the things about making horror. It’s a trick that we have about making shows where people get killed. You have to constantly invent interesting characters to challenge the existing characters, at a certain level where you both care if they die, or if they’re revealed as the killer.
“We had this kind of really cool, very affluent party girl character who was going to come in and kind of give them all a run for their money, but also was going to be the best possible friend you could have. It was kind of a Tatum character in some ways, but like Tatum strong, like liquor is strong. Like straight Scotch is strong. Tatum super-strong. And she was a contender to be the killer at the end of the story, but we never got to pitch it. We never even got to pitch it. We were like, ‘This ride is over!’”
One of the recurring mysteries in Scream revolved around the character of Brandon James. Was he a monster who lived up to his status as Lakewood’s boogeyman, or was he a poor, misunderstood soul who had been framed for a series of murders which predated (and inspired) the events of the series? While the character was said to be dead from the beginning of the series, it’s eventually revealed that he’d survived being gunned down by the police after the murders that he was likely framed for.
So was there an endgame in place for this character? “Brandon James is alive,” Register reiterates. “He was taken away,” Gans adds, “because they were afraid that he was going to be accused of killing all these people. But he was not the killer. He would always be looming as a possible suspect as a killer, but in our version he was never the killer. He came back in the third season, and was not … I mean, he was stalking, but it was not the kind of stalking-where-he’s-going-to-kill-people stalking. He was coming back to kind of rescue Emma, because he had this weird relationship with her from when he was a child.”
“Because Emma’s mother and the Sheriff had rescued him and took him to that farmhouse [that belonged to his family],” Register recalls. “That’s why [Emma] dreamed of it, because her mother brought her there as a little girl and brought groceries to him.”
“We were intending on keeping him alive forever,” Gans adds. “Sort of like a converse Michael Myers. The boogeyman who isn’t a bad guy.”
So, one wonders if Gans and Register were ever given proper notice that they wouldn’t be returning and that the show would be rebooting without them or the characters that had anchored the show since the beginning. “We would’ve stayed if they’d come back to us again to do it,” Gans says. “But at that point, MTV was basically falling apart with regards to narrative format. People were leaving that whole department. In the trades, it became final, but we kind of knew already that we were finished.”
Nevertheless, it took some time before Scream: Resurrection made it to screens after the previous season’s bow. “They had those episodes for a long time before they even aired that third season,” Register points out. “They made six episodes, but they held them for a very long time before they aired them on VH1.”
Gans sighs. “There was such a complication with that network, with them understanding what that show should be or what it could be.”
“They wanted to be a little bit more of an angsty teen drama,” Register says, “and we really were making it that kind of wicked, ‘wink’ horror … and it’s very hard to make a horror series and not get too schmaltzy with the sadness of death. In every great slasher, there’s not a whole lot of time to be sad for those that have died.”
“You have to race,” Gans adds. “You have to tilt the clock, so that it’s immediate. You think about television now, it can be very of the minute. Initially, one of the things that we wanted to do was make our show real time, for the entire season to be literally five days. I think it would have been super dynamic, but they had a hard time with giving into the more daring choices at the network level. They really wanted Pretty Little Liars, and we were like, ‘Well this is Scream, my friends.’”
Given that the franchise just received a boost in the form of the theatrical franchise’s triumphant return to the big screen this winter, one wonders if the Scream television series might return along with the plans crafted for it by Gans and Register. “That possibility is still fresh in our brain,” Register reveals.
Indeed, while their idea for a meta horror show may not come to pass as a season of Scream, the two have reworked their take for an original project which fans may see some day soon. Explains Gans: “We have developed something that we’re very close to doing. We don’t know where it’s gonna land yet right now, but we have four different [television series] in development. The one that’s based on [their meta Scream season] is very dear to our hearts and it’s extremely successful currently. It almost went to Peacock and it didn’t, but it’s still very much alive right now. We want to do it.”
In wrapping up our conversation, Gans and Register look back on their time with Scream while considering its future. “I think there could be another television series of Scream,” Gans notes. “I’m not sure where the property lies in regards to the television rights. But with regards to the story? Hell yeah, I’d come back and do it again. I would link it more directly to the original franchise, which I think there’s a million ways to do. Not necessarily even the [meta idea], but other ways to tie it back to the original movie and what happened in Woodsboro, and the history of that town.
“I think that if you did it, you would have to stay true to the depth and power of the sexy, scary nature of that property and bring it to the now. You just have to really love the format, and you really have to love the audience. You have to really deliver to them the kind of bloody blows that they expect.”
Register agrees, adding: “The beautiful thing about Scream that you always want to preserve, especially in a slasher, is that you want to keep the audience off their plumb line just a little bit. Uneasy about where you’re going into, and humor helps throw that audience off their plumb line, so that you don’t know when those scares will happen. You use humor as much as you use shock scares … to unnerve the audience.”
“I think endless [Scream] movies should exist,” Gans says in conclusion. “I don’t even care if they’re bad. I think they should continue to carry on the franchise in films. As far as the television series goes, I think Brandon James’ story could be continued. There’s a way to approach that material and do it. I think the requirement is that it should be fearless … and yet, full of fear. You have to be scary as hell, and fearless.”
Very special thanks to Michael Gans and Richard Register for their time and insights.
This has been Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which takes a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we chat with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.