A summer TV press tour panel about FX's "American Horror Story: Coven" briefly became a horror of its own for NBC when "Harry's Law" star Kathy Bates took a colorful swipe at her former network.
When asked whether it took a special project to lure her back to TV after her experience with the David E. Kelley-created legal drama, she tensed noticeably.
"I think they treated us like [dirt]. They kicked us to the curb," she said. "I think they disrespected us and our 7 to 10 milliion viewers, and I think they're getting what they deserve."
This last comment was in reference to the network's struggling ratings. As Bates pointed out, "Harry's Law" had a big audience, which sometimes exceeded 10 million, but the median age of viewers was over 60, a demographic that isn't prized by advertisers.
After some tension and nervous laughter, the line of questioning returned to "Coven."
FX is known as a bit of a boys club, said the show's executive producer Tim Minear during the Television Critics Assn. press tour Friday, but with the show's third season, the channel stands to become "the most friendly network for women this year."
Referring to the "murderous row of actresses" joining him on the stage (Angela Bassett, Bates, Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson), Minear added, "All these women are playing very iconic, very strong female characters."
As one might deduce from the season's title, many of the women play witches. The days of the Salem Witch Trials are long behind us, and in modern times it seems audiences can't get enough supernatural characters with scary, morally ambiguous abilities.
The "American Horror Story" franchise, which sees the same actors taking on fresh roles in spooky mini-series-like seasons, is part of a new breed of shows, including "True Blood," "The Vampire Diaries" and "Hemlock Grove," that have bitten into the public imagination with vampiric tenacity.
"Coven," which is only a week into filming for its fall debut, is being shot entirely on location in New Orleans. The cast kept a tight lid on what to expect in this new season, although Paulson did let fly that she is playing Jessica Lange's daughter.
"Isn't that a nugget?" she asked, laughing. "That's a nugget. Chew on that."
"We're very early on in shooting the show, and I'd like to keep the surprises on the screen," said Minear, giving away only that this season will be funnier than the previous two, extremely dark seasons. "And I'd like to keep my job."
The all-star cast agreed that working together is creating an environment in which everybody is pushed to perform at his and her very best.
"It really raises your game. It's something almost unconscious, when you get out there you know who you're going to be with, even if you're not in the same scene together," said Bates. "And you just want to bring your triple-A game."
"I get to work with artists that I love and who obviously write for women," said Bassett.
Lange, who was nominated for an Emmy for her work in the second season installment, agreed, saying she has been lucky to have been with the show from the beginning. She added that she is particularly excited to be leaving the Paramount back lot for New Orleans, a city so steeped in mystery and tragic history that it can't help but lend a creeping veracity to the finished product.
"I love madness, and I love playing mad," she said. "And there is something about New Orleans that is unique in this country. It has a power and authenticity that is lacking in most places. Truman Capote said New Orleans is secret -- it's one long poem. There is something so hypnotic, almost drug-like about being there."