An anthology series is a radio, television, film, or video game series that presents a different story and a different set of characters in each different episode, season, segment, or short. These usually have a different cast in each episode, but several series in the past, such as Four Star Playhouse, employed a permanent troupe of character actors who would appear in a different drama each week. Some anthology series, such as Studio One, began on radio and then expanded to television.
The word comes from Ancient Greek ἀνθολογία (anthología, "flower-gathering"), from ἀνθολογέω (anthologéō, "I gather flowers"), from ἄνθος (ánthos, "flower") + λέγω (légō, "I gather, pick up, collect"), coined by Meleager of Gadara circa 60 BCE, originally as Στέφανος (στέφανος (stéphanos, "garland")) to describe a collection of poetry, later retitled anthology – see Greek Anthology. Anthologiai were collections of small Greek poems and epigrams, because in Greek culture the flower symbolized the finer sentiments that only poetry can express.
Many popular old-time radio programs were anthology series. On some series, such as Inner Sanctum Mysteries, the only constant was the host, who introduced and concluded each dramatic presentation. One of the earliest such programs was The Collier Hour, broadcast on the NBC Blue Network from 1927 to 1932. As radio's first major dramatic anthology, it adapted stories and serials from Collier's Weekly in a calculated move to increase subscriptions and compete with The Saturday Evening Post. Airing on the Wednesday prior to each week's distribution of the magazine, the program soon moved to Sundays in order to avoid spoilers with dramatizations of stories simultaneously appearing in the magazine.
Radio anthology series provided a format for science fiction, horror, suspense, and mystery genres (all produced in the US, unless noted):
The final episode of Suspense was broadcast on September 30, 1962, a date that has traditionally been seen as marking the end of the old-time radio era. However, genre series produced since 1962 include:
In the history of television, live anthology dramas were especially popular during the Golden Age of Television of the 1950s with series such as The United States Steel Hour and The Philco Television Playhouse.
Dick Powell came up with an idea for an anthology series, Four Star Playhouse, with a rotation of established stars every week, four stars in all. The stars would own the studio and the program, as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had done successfully with Desilu studio. Powell had intended for the program to feature himself, Charles Boyer, Joel McCrea, and Rosalind Russell. When Russell and McCrea backed out, David Niven came on board as the third star. The fourth star was initially a guest star. CBS liked the idea, and Four Star Playhouse made its debut in fall of 1952. It ran on alternate weeks only during the first season, alternating with Amos 'n' Andy. It was successful enough to be renewed and became a weekly program from the second season until the end of its run in 1956. Ida Lupino was brought on board as the de facto fourth star, though unlike Powell, Boyer, and Niven, she owned no stock in the company.
American television networks would sometimes run summer anthology series which consisted of unsold television pilots. Beginning in 1971, the long-run Masterpiece Theatre drama anthology series brought British productions to American television.
In 2011, American Horror Story debuted a new type of anthology format in the U.S. Each season, rather than each episode, is a standalone story. Several actors have appeared in the various seasons, but playing different roles—in an echo of the Four Star Playhouse format.
The success of American Horror Story has spawned other season-long anthologies such as American Crime Story and True Detective.
|The Catholic Hour||1956||1967||–||–||–|
|Crossroads also known as Way of Life||1955||1957||2||78||–|
|Lamp Unto My Feet||1948||1969||–||–||–|
|Look Up and Live||1967||1971||–||–||–|
|This is the Life also known as The Fisher Family||1952||1988||–||–|
|Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond||1959||1961||3||96||–|
|Amazing Stories (original series)||1985||1987||2||45||–|
|Amazing Stories (reboot)||2020||2020||1||5||–|
|American Horror Story||2011||Present||11||114||–|
|American Horror Stories||2021||Present||1||7||–|
|Are You Afraid of the Dark?||1990||2000||7||91||–|
|Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction||1997||2002||4||45||–|
|Black Mirror||2011||Present||6||27||UK series|
|Electric Dreams (2017 TV series)||2017||2018||1||10||–|
|Fantasy Island||1977||1984||7||152||Includes 2 Movies|
|Fear and Fancy||1953||1953||1||15||–|
|The Fearing Mind||2000||2000||1||12||–|
|Freddy's Nightmares – A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series||1988||1990||2||44||–|
|Ghost Story||1972||1973||1||22||23 total includes 1 Pilot|
|Great Ghost Tales||1961||1961||1||12||–|
|A Haunting||2005||Present||10||105||Stopped in 2007 and returned in 2012|
|Historias para no dormir||1966||1982||3||29||–|
|The Hunger||1997||2000||2||44||UK/Canadian Series|
|Inside No 9||2014||Present||8||49||–|
|Into the Dark||2018||2021||2||24||–|
|Journey to the Unknown||1968||1969||1||17||–|
|Lee Martin's The Midnight Hour||2008||2015||–|
|Love, Death & Robots||2019||Present||2||26||–|
|Masters of Horror||2005||2007||2||26||–|
|Masters of Science Fiction||2007||2007||1||6||–|
|Métal Hurlant Chronicles||2012||2014||2||12||–|
|Mystery and Imagination||1966||1970||5||24||UK series|
|The Nightmare Room||2001||2002||1||13||–|
|Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King||2006||2006||1||8||–|
|Out of the Unknown||1965||1971||4||49||UK series|
|Out of This World||1962||1962||1||13||UK series|
|The Outer Limits||1963||1965||2||49||–|
|The Outer Limits||1995||2002||7||154||–|
|Perversions of Science||1997||1997||1||10||–|
|Play for Tomorrow||1981||1981||1||6||UK series|
|Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected||1977||1977||1||8||Not to be confused with the UK series (below)|
|The Ray Bradbury Theater||1985||1992||6||65||–|
|R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour||2010||2014||4||76||–|
|Science Fiction Theatre||1955||1957||2||78||–|
|Tales from the Darkside||1984||1988||4||89||Plus 1 Pilot|
|Tales from the Crypt||1989||1996||7||93||–|
|Tales of Mystery||1961||1963||3||29||–|
|Tales of Mystery and Imagination||1995||1995||1||13||–|
|Tales of the Unexpected||1979||1988||9||112||UK series unconnected with the Quinn Martin series (above)|
|Tales of Tomorrow||1951||1953||2||85||–|
|The Twilight Zone (original series)||1959||1964||5||156||–|
|The Twilight Zone (first reboot)||1985||1989||3||65||–|
|The Twilight Zone (second reboot)||2002||2003||1||43||–|
|The Twilight Zone (third reboot)||2019||2020||2||20||–|
|Welcome to Paradox||1998||1998||1||13|
|Star Wars: Visions||2021||Present||1||9|
|Frontier Theatre||1950||1950||–||–||No episodes are known to have survived.|
|Death Valley Days||1952||1970||18||452||–|
|Zane Grey Theater||1956||1961||5||149||–|
|Dead Man's Gun||1997||1999||2||44||–|
Anthology film series are rare compared to their TV and radio counterparts. There have been several attempts within the horror genre to have a franchise with an anthology format, such as with the Halloween franchise where the third film, Halloween: Season of the Witch, was meant to be the beginning of a series of anthology horror films, but due to negative reception that plan was shelved.
|Cities of Love||2006||N/A||5|||
|Carry On...||1958||1992||31||Comedy series which used the same roster of comedic actors and comedians|
|Shinobi no Mono||1962||1970||9||Composed of five unrelated stories/characters. Story 1 (films #1–3), story 2 (films #4–5, 7), story 3 (film #6), story 4 (film #8), story 5 (film #9).|
|The Bloodthirsty Trilogy||1970||1974||3|
|The Ninja Trilogy||1981||1984||3||Composed of Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination.|
|Shake, Rattle & Roll||1984||2014||15|
|Hanna-Barbera Superstars 10||1987||1988||10||The series of syndicated animated television films produced by Hanna-Barbera, as part of The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera programming block.|
|Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy||2004||2013||3|
Anthology video games have been very rare since the 1980s.
|Silent Hill||1999||N/A||9||Each game presents a different story and main characters, but in the same titular town of Silent Hill.|
|The Dark Pictures Anthology||2019||N/A||4||It is planned to consist of eight games, with one entry per year.|
|Fears to Fathom||2021||N/A||4||An episodic psychological horror game where each episode unveils a short story narrated by the ones who survived.|