Saturday, February 25, 2017

Chris Wiggins, the banker turned actor who starred on the syndicated horror show Friday the 13th: The Series, has died at the age of 87. He had Alzheimer's.

Friday the 13th: The Series was the brainchild of Frank Mancuso, Jr. Mancuso was producer of Friday the 13th Part 2 in 1981, and continued in that rule until Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan in 1989. Mancuso and co-creator Larry B. Williams conceived of the idea of a team of three people who have to retrieve a series of demonically-cursed artifacts. The show was originally to be called Friday's Curse, but they chose the name Friday the 13th to evoke the idea of bad luck and mystery. Mancuso insists it was never intended to piggyback on the movies, although clearly it did. None of the episodes ever featured Jason Voorhees or any of the characters from any of the films.

Friday the 13th: The Series aired from October 3, 1987, to May 26, 1990. This was the great age of first-run syndication, with shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Freddy's Nightmares, Tales From the Darkside, Monsters, Dracula: The Series, Forever Knight, 21 Jump Street, and War of the Worlds filling schedules. Many of these series ran late at night, particularly on Saturday night. That drew a core audience of college kids and young adults, watching the shows for their cheap thrills and outrageousness before heading out to the bars. The first season was the second-most-watched in the male 18-to-49-year-old demographic, just behind Star Trek: The Next Generation, and was the fifth-most-watched in the female 18-to-49-year-old demographic. It was an unalloyed hit.

Friday the 13th: The Series spent less than $500,000 per episode. It was filmed in and around Montreal, with almost no special effects, animation, or puppetry. What few effects the show featured were done with standard, 1930s-era tricks. If you needed a plant's tendril to wrap around a woman's neck, you wound it about the actress's neck and then pulled it off. The film was shown in reverse on the air. If you needed a ghost, you projected one against a muslin screen in front of the camera.

The show was wildly popular, and that proved its downfall. A number of TV stations moved it into prime-time, where prudish anti-violence and anti-occult groups went into a tizzy. Series star John D. LeMay was so convinced he was going to be a star, that he quit the show after the second season. He was replaced in the third season by a poor-man's lookalike, Steven Monarque. Ratings plunged. The budget was cut, with lead actor Chris Wiggins making fewer appearances. Advertisers abandoned the show. Ten TV stations bowed to pressure from parents' groups, and cancelled airings.

While filming of the third season's 20th episode was under way, the show was abruptly cancelled. Although six more episodes had been written, three of which were in preproduction, none of them were filmed. The writing staff wasn't even given the chance to rewrite a few scenes or lines of dialogue to bring closure to the series. The writers were already at work on plans for a fourth season, in which the three leads would meet a secret society of occult investigators.

Friday the 13th: The Series was nominated for Emmy Awards in 1988 and 1989 for Visual and Graphic Effects. In 1990, the series was nominated by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films as Best Series.

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