I never thought I'd hear horror producers admit that being forced to cut back on the blood and gore could be a good thing.

Keith Addis and Andrew Deane, whose credits include the Showtime gore-fest "Masters of Horror," are now executive producing "Fear Itself" for NBC. And, even in these much-more-liberal days, NBC won't telecast the kind of content that makes it on a pay-cable network.

Addis admitted in a teleconference with TV critics that he was worried about how writers and directors would deal with broadcast-TV restrictions; he said he was "totally surprised" at "how intrigued they were about this challenge."

"It wasn't unanimous, but there was a strong consensus that most of the (R-rated) elements — basically the graphic gore and a lot of the sexual violence — had been played out as far as they could be in the movies, on cable shows," Addis said. "And that these restrictions that obviously exist in the commercial broadcast environment really motivated the writers and directors to think much more imaginatively and much more creatively about the devices they'd use to get audiences pushed just as far."

In other words, they had to try to be scary without being gross, which is something you don't see a lot in horror movies these days.

"One of the things that Andrew has said ... is it's so often much scarier not to see than to see graphically what's going on," Addis said. "That's a great advantage of telling these stories in television."

"Fear Itself" (9 p.m., Ch. 5) is an anthology series that recalls "Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits" — 13 one-hour horror films with different casts, writers and directors. Tonight's premiere, "The Sacrifice," was helmed by Breck Eisner, who's directing a remake of "Creature from the Black Lagoon.'

Upcoming directors include John Landis ("An American Werewolf in London"), Stuart Gordon ("Re-Animator"), Darren Bousman ("Saw II, III and IV"), Mary Harron ("American Psycho") and Ronny Yu ("Bride of Chucky").

Make no mistake — "Fear Itself" has far more blood and gore than "Twilight Zone" or "Outer Limits." But in the three episodes provided to critics, the blood and gore quotient isn't higher than you'll see in "ER," "Grey's Anatomy" or "CSI.'

These are intense hours, however. In tonight's premiere, four criminals (one played by Jesse Plemons of "Friday Night Lights") are stranded in the middle of nowhere and find themselves caught up in nightmarish circumstances. Next week, a former cop (Eric Roberts) is driven to the verge of insanity; a week later, a family man finds himself in the body of a serial killer — and vice-versa.

The episodes are scary, violent and sometimes bloody. But, compared to theatrical films, there are ounces of blood, not gallons.

As with all anthologies, "Fear Itself" is like a series of one-hour TV movies.

"Every one of these films is completely separate and unique from all the others," Addis said, adding, "You don't have to get locked into every episode the way you do with a serialized television show.

"If you liked one of the episodes, there's a really good chance will like others. And, frankly, if it wasn't for you, there's still a really good chance that others will be."

And if you really, really miss all the gallons of blood, well, just wait for the DVD to come out.

"For the audience that expects more, there will be more to see on the home-video version," Addis said.

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