AMC’s original programming is MIA

Loss of award–winning shows threatens the newly–branded television network; can they keep up the quality?

Recently, many others and I saw the end of one of our favorite shows to ever grace our television screens, Breaking Bad. And with this, I not only see the end of a great era of television, but the end of AMC. Now this is a bold claim; everyone reading this is probably screaming about their love for The Walking Dead, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. AMC has lost all their good original content and I’m afraid that their reputation has peaked, and we might see a decline in quality quite soon.

Before I support my seemingly outrageous claim, I’ll give some information about AMC. AMC, or the American Movie Classics, began as a premium channel in 1984 that would mostly broadcast films made prior to 1950. This format would remain relatively unchanged until 2002, when the network decided to shift focus from classic movies to all movies as well as original programming. This new shift would bring many mistakes, such as a reality show where out of work actors were filmed auditioning for a role in a film that does not exist, and then told that it was all a prank on live television. This series was called by The New York Times as “one of the meanest reality series.” But during these blunder years, AMC found its niche with its powerhouse Mad Men.

The show was the brainchild of Matthew Weiner, who got a writing job on the acclaimed HBO show The Sopranos through his brilliant pilot script for Mad Men. However, neither HBO or Showtime expressed any interest in the series during the seven years it was available. As The Sopranos was ending, Weiner approached AMC with the pilot since they were looking for new content. The show took the audience and award ceremonies by storm. The depiction of the 1950s New York City office place was lauded for its style and analysis of the sexism, racism, and alcoholism rampant in these environments. This success would bring AMC the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for four straight years, from 2008 to 2011.

During this time, AMC would also phase in their newest original program, Breaking Bad. Although it would start out with acclaim but average ratings, it would soon gain a strong following, and universal claim as perhaps the best show on television. Vince Gilligan, creator and showrunner, credited Netflix and streaming services for creating an audience that he believes allowed the show to have a third season and go beyond-second half of the final season had an average audience of more than double any other season’s viewership.

Only two years after Breaking Bad’s inception, one of the most popular shows on television, The Walking Dead, would premiere on AMC. The heartfelt and gripping zombie drama was a fresh change, and using the rich source material from the comic book series of the same name, it’s no surprise people would be glued to their seats. In fact, the first episode of the fourth season attained a viewership of 16.1 million, making it the most-watched drama series telecast in basic cable history. So reading this, how can AMC be on a decline if they’ve got so much great content?

The truth is, their new reputation is almost meaningless now. These past few years have been AMC’s attempt at rebranding, their new slogan from 2009 to 2013 being “Story Matters Here,” but my question is, does it? If you look at all the major awards in the acting or drama categories at the Emmys or Golden Globes for AMC, almost all of them are for Mad Men or Breaking Bad. Although Mad Men started out strong, it’s been overshadowed by many other new series, and the seventh and final season will be airing in two halves this April, and at some point in the spring of 2015. And with the finale of Breaking Bad, not many more awards are to be expected for AMC. Although The Walking Dead may be going strong, I don’t see how AMC can have had the slogan, “Story Matters Here,” when they only have one show people really follow, and it’s not even original programming! They’re even trying to bring about a spin off of Breaking Bad following Saul Goodman which I am not exactly looking forward to, since I can’t really imagine the show doing anything to make the original series better. Plus, spin offs don’t have a great reputation in general.

AMC is in a hole, they’ve gained a reputation of high quality and high production shows on par with HBO, but without paying for a special subscription. However, they can’t really maintain this position without maintaining content. This means there needs to be a change.

Some might say this problem could be simply solved by saying “get better shows,” but that’s not just what AMC needs. First, I personally believe Talking Dead either needs a format change or it needs to go, and if Breaking Bad were still on the air, I would say the same about Talking Bad. It’s not that I don’t like AMC providing an inside look at the episode, I just wish it were more structured and perhaps shorter. At the end of every episode of Game of Thrones there is a short video showing behind the scenes as well as the directors and the writer of the series, George R.R. Martin, dissecting pieces of the episode, all within seven minutes. This is what I love, a short snippet of cool behind the scenes knowledge. What Talking Dead and Talking Bad try to be is baffling, a talk show about the just finished episode of the series. I don’t mind the cast and crew discussing and telling information about the episode, but do we really need the length of a full episode to listen about this stuff on television when this could be on the internet and a new show could be taking this spot? As well, having celebrities on the show like Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, and Marilyn Manson seems wildly unnecessary to me. Truth is, their view of the new episode doesn’t mean much to me, and it doesn’t seem like it’s important enough to follow a major network show. That prime spot shouldn’t be used to soak in the viewership from the previous show, but to promote a new show that could become the next big hit.

Moving on, AMC should move into the new media age and allow their episodes to be streamed online after they air. It’s almost baffling to me how this is not already the case. Hulu exists for a reason, and even networks that don’t stream on Hulu, like CBS and Spike, have their content available on their websites, but not AMC. It is impossible to legally watch the newest episode of any of AMC shows online.

I think to show their recent state, AMC has changed their slogan to “Something More,” which is apropos, since it is exactly what AMC needs, something more. There is nothing that AMC is doing now that makes me think they’re trying to maintain their reputation for great content, so far it seems as though they are riding The Walking Dead to the bank and that’s it. AMC has plans to release two period dramas this year, Halt and Catch Fire, set in 1982 with the rise of the IBM and the personal computer race, and Turn, a group of spies during the Revolutionary War. However, I’m indifferent so far without any real content for either shown yet. Unless one or both of these shows succeeds, I don’t foresee a bright future for AMC.