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Fear is in fashion on CW’s ‘13’

January 5, 2009 |  5:56 pm
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The Sam Raimi-created series, which pits a baker's dozen of contestants in scary challenges culled from horror films, is a break from the network's slate of style-conscious shows.

The CW, known for its stable of prissy <i>fashionista</i> reality programming, is looking to broaden its brand with primal fear.

The network's latest reality show is called "13: Fear Is Real," which premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The show, created by Sam Raimi (the "Spider-Man" and "Evil Dead" film series), pits 13 contestants against one another in a series of challenges inspired by frightening situations from horror movies.

Filmed over four weeks in the summer and set in the eerie landscape of Louisiana bayou country, contestants face their deepest fears (the dark, abandonment, being buried alive) and even work in cahoots with the show's resident terror mastermind. Each week, one ill-fated victim will be "killed off" until finally the lone survivor wins the grand prize of -- fittingly -- $66,666.

Initially titled "House of Horrors," the show's format was changed from its original concept, which had contestants cooped up in a house. But that scheme limited many potentially fear-inducing scenarios, said Jay Bienstock, the show's executive producer.

"There's more chance to scare people when they are constantly on the move and off balance," he said. "If you're in one place for too long, the anxiety decreases. You become accustomed to it."

That's when box-office favorites came in handy.

"I binged on scary movies for ideas," Bienstock said. " 'The Ring,' 'Blair Witch,' 'Cloverfield.' Then I worked my way backward . . . 'House on Haunted Hill' . . . the types of movies that didn't rely on gore and blood but on simple ways of scaring people."

Since the CW counts its relative success from shows such as "Gossip Girl," "90210," and "America's Next Top Model," it remains to be seen whether a horror-inspired reality show will translate into a ratings hit.

"Fear is very subjective," Bienstock said. "It's like comedy. How do you make a show that will hopefully frighten an audience watching it on TV? It's so much easier in a movie theater; it's dark, there's a big screen. There are more distractions when you watch a show -- the phone rings, you're making dinner. . . . Every now and then, we hope, a viewer will just jump out of their chair."

-- Yvonne Villarreal

Photo:  Contestant Steffinnie on "13: Fear is Real."  Patrick Wymore / The CW

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