The skin is already starting to tingle. “Goosebumps” is ready to enter “The Twilight Zone.”
Fox Broadcasting gets into the Halloween spirit Friday night with a prime-time dose of R.L. Stine’s monstrously successful “Goosebumps” book series.
The one-hour premiere, “The Haunted Mask,” will introduce the live-action anthology show to an audience that in large part already is frighteningly well-versed in Stine’s sense of the macabre.
The author, who keeps a tribal mask and a skeleton hanging in his writing studio, has produced more than 40 “Goosebumps” books, with a total of 71 million in print. He typically holds 30 of the top 150 spots on weekly best-seller lists and receives about 2,000 fan letters a week.
The formula is so simple it’s scary: Take ordinary kids and put them in extraordinary and sometimes frightening situations.
Fox has taken a similarly straightforward approach to marketing the show.
Starting Nov. 3, the half-hour episodes will air Friday afternoons, when they will be seen by the sizable, predominantly male audience that tunes in each weekday for “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”
Clearly, this show carries big expectations, as a scarier version of Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” Even before the show began production, Fox executives predicted that “Goosebumps” would keep kids and their parents on the edges of their seats and make them fall over laughing.
The shows should deliver on that promise.
In “The Haunted Mask,” a girl’s Halloween costume scares everyone, including the wearer when she cannot take it off. But like other Stine works, there’s no serious injury or death en route to the final punch line. (Future episodes also include inside jokes, such as a subtle inclusion of the “Clifford” book series, which, like “Goosebumps,” is published by Scholastic.)
Further, the TV “Goosebumps” might even promote children’s literacy. Fox Children’s Network President Margaret Loesch gives the $3.99 book series as the reason her son learned to read.
Stine told reporters last summer, “… We’re just going to reach so many millions of more kids this way, and I think they’re all going to be encouraged to go out to their bookstores to see what these books are about and what other books are about.”
Not all the readers become Stine-loving zombies. The author acknowledges his critics, including a boy who wrote, “I’ve read 40 of your books, and I think they’re really boring.”
However, Stine said, “Half the kids who write to me say they want to be horror writers when they grow up. So I think we’re in for some very scary times.”
Many parents and teachers, of course, are elated by anything that sparks children’s literacy. Stine cited a letter from a mother who, in the middle of the night, discovered her book-hating son reading “Goosebumps” under the covers with a flashlight.
“Goosebumps” is part of the Fox Halloween bash, which kicks off Wednesday with a “Beverly Hills, 90210” episode that includes a gypsy named Madam Raven who tells fortunes and sells love potion.
Halloween parties are in the story lines of Fox’s “Living Single” (Thursday night) and “The Preston Episodes” (Saturday night). The witching season also provides the backdrop for the always creepy “X-Files” (Friday night) as well as for Saturday’s “Cops,” “America’s Most Wanted” and “Mad TV.”
Other Halloween-influenced shows for the week:
“Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” (Saturday night, CBS) worries that Sully won’t dress as Prince Charming to her Cinderella when they attend the town’s festivities.
ABC gets into the spirit with a trick-or-treat “Jeff Foxworthy Show” (Saturday night) and the 1993 film “Hocus Pocus” (Saturday night), starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy.
xxxx PROGRAM TIME “Goosebumps” airs at 8 p.m. Friday on KAYU-Channel 28 (Channel 3 on Cox Cable)