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‘Captive Audience’ Isn’t Connected to ‘American Horror Story’

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At the moment, Hulu is home to what may be the craziest docuseries of the year. Captive Audience doesn’t just tell the tragic story of a child being kidnapped. It covers that as well as the Emmy nominated miniseries that came from this case and a separate yet related string of murders. If you’re thinking that’s a lot of true crime for three episodes of television, welcome to the conversation.

But there’s another head scratcher buried in Captive Audience: A Real American Horror Story. Despite its misleading subhead, this new docuseries has nothing to do with American Horror Story, the FX horror anthology series of the same. Here’s your breakdown of these two very different but similar-sounding projects.

What Is Captive Audience About?

It’s structurally fitting that this docuseries is three episodes because there are three major parts to this tragic family history. In December of 1972, seven-year-old Steven Stayner was kidnapped while walking home from school. The man who ultimately orchestrated his abduction, Kenneth Parnell, claimed that he wanted to take Stayner so that he could raise him in a more religious household. That was a lie. In reality, Parnell had already been convicted of kidnapping and molesting another young boy.

Stayner stayed with Parnell for seven years, believing Parnell’s claims that his family had abandoned him. During this time, Stayner was repeatedly raped. But Stayner didn’t make an escape attempt until Parnell abducted another boy, five-year-old Timmy White. A couple of weeks after White’s kidnapping, Parnell left the boys alone and Stayner made his move. He took White and hitchhiked his way back to the boy’s hometown of Ukiah, Calif. The day after Stayner’s heroic rescue and escape, Parnell was arrested.

Because Stayner’s story is so unbelievable, it’s not surprising that it caught the media’s attention. That’s the focus of Captive Audience‘s second episode. After years of reporters hounding him, Stayner sold his life rights to create the NBC miniseries I Know My First Name Is Steven. The two-part event was a massive success, garnering an estimated 40 million viewers on its most watched night. The series was even nominated for four Emmys and a Golden Globe.

Sadly, Captive Audience doesn’t end on this relatively happy note. Its last third chronicles another tragic family secret, this time one about Steven’s older brother, Cary Stayner. Between February and July of 1999, Cary Stayner murdered four women around Yosemite National Park. After police found him, he pled guilty to his crimes. Cary Stayner is currently on death row at San Quentin Penitentiary in California.

Is Captive Audience Connected to American Horror Story?

Despite its misleading subhead, Captive Audience has no connection to American Horror Story. The docuseries does come from some famous producers: Anthony and Joe Russo. But the Russo brothers have never been involved in Ryan Murphy’s world.

That being said, one Ryan Murphy show has alluded to the Steven Stayner case. 9-1-1′s Season 2 Episode, “New Beginnings”, contained a double kidnapping subplot that was similar to Stayner’s story.

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