AMC: A Symphony of Creative Despair
These last few months have been a PR nightmare for the relatively new TV network. Given notoriety with Mad Men and Breaking Bad quicker than it can handle, the AMC network has all but (perceptively) faltered when it comes to breaking news concerning its creative personnel on several series. Maybe they aren’t big issues from inside the network, but the public and readers like you and me can only watch as its assumed genuine creative endeavors hit many road bumps.
Lets get the elephant in the room out of the way: Mad Men
We all know that the network got into “battle” with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner that delayed the series fifth season from airing for over a year since the end of Season 4. The negotiations got very public and Weiner netted a reported $30 million contract for three season’s by shortening each episode by 2-minutes for more ad space and asked to cut six characters over three seasons. “I don’t understand why, with all of the success of the show, they suddenly need to change it,” Weiner says. While the realities of network television highly depend on advertising revenues to keep it afloat, it becomes an issue when creative intent is being hampered. The series finally returned for a very successful fifth season that I covered for DreamMovieCast.
Then there’s Breaking Bad…
The quiet, but critically and viewer beloved series Breaking Bad, created by Vince Gilligan, ran into a bit of a tiff over the summer with AMC. The series fourth season premiere set ratings records and turned tense when Season 5 was being negotiated. We all remember that the series was possibly being shopped to other network in order to finish its series on their own terms if negotiations broke down between AMC and Sony Pictures Television (who produces the series). AMC wanted no more than 6 to 8 episodes for the end-run of the series, but ended up with a 16 episode two-part fifth and final season, consisting of 8 episodes for each half to air over two summers (the final half which airs in Summer 2013). AMC then went on to use Breaking Bad as a pawn during its dispute over carriage fees with the DISH Network.
Rubicon, The Killing and Hell on Wheels Shuffle Themselves
The now-cancelled Rubicon saw its original showrunner replaced early into its first and only season and the less said about The Killing and Hell on Wheels the better because they represent everything that’s creatively uninteresting for this reader (but you may disagree). All I’ll say is that after a tumultuous viewer/critic backlash over the unsolved nature of The Killing in Season 1 was quite loud and directed towards showrunner Veena Sud, especially after ads for the series promised a resolution of some sort. Then Season 2 (which had an early renewal) had a dramatic ratings dip, resolving the Rosie Larson mystery and then the series got cancelled. When Netflix entered the foray to revive the series, AMC finally showed their hand and revived the series themselves for a third season, which will air on AMC sometime. But this wasn’t simply a Netflix revival problem, but in tandem with Hell on Wheels. The series saw its two lead showrunners, Joe and Tony Gayton, pushed out and have John Shiban run things during Season 3. But Shiban quickly left citing personal reasons and without a proper showrunner, AMC is still scrambling in figuring out what to do by delaying the third season and that’s why The Killing has returned. Or at least that’s how it played out in the press and media.
Welcome the “Talkies”: Comic Book Men and The Talking Dead
The network then expanded into reality/talk show format with The Talking Dead and Comic Book Men. And while I think the interviews/previews/sneak peeks is capitalizing on the popularity of The Walking Dead (more on that below), the recent news that the talker will expand to an hour (up from just 30 minutes) right after the newest episode automatically limits any potential to launch any new series after it’s monster-hit TWD. Thankfully, its host Chris Hardwick (most well known for The Nerdist Podcast) is a relief and seems to attract an array of interesting guests from outside the series that just seem to grovel at the series feet. So you know, I guess that’s not going anywhere. But then there’s Comic Book Men, truly a catastrophic failure in tone and interest from notorious Kevin Smith and about all things… you guessed it, comics. While I’m relatively new to the world of comic books (graphic novels, etc.), I’d like to welcome fellow friend and Bloody-Disgusting Comic News Editor Lonmonster (aka. Lonnie Nadler, who you can follow on Twitter @lonmonster) to give his take on things:
Given the mass popularity of The Walking Dead, AMC’s decision to capitalize on the comic book fandom by releasing a reality show about comics was a smart move. Unfortunately, rather than taking the opportunity to accurately represent “geek” culture and show that comics are a legitimate art, they give us a bunch of man-babies who stand around idly while ripping on each other. After the strangely brief first season that consisted of 6 hour-long episodes, most comic fans realized it wasn’t going to be “Pawn Stars for geeks,” as initially promised. I’m a big fan of Smith’s work and I enjoy his comic-related podcasts (Fat Man on the Batman, The Secret Stash), but his involvement with the show was minimal in season one, and it suffered from a lack of direction. It was then expanded for a second season of 16 half-hour episodes [but] the pod-cast recording scenes are still used to fill space, even with the cut down to a half-hour. Comic Book Men can be enjoyable only because of its genuine shop owners – however frustrating they can be – but it’s tedious reality TV.
It’s no secret that the comics industry is suffering. Kevin Smith knows this better than most. Rather than welcoming people into the wonderful world of geekdom, Comic Book Men further ostracizes comic book culture.
Finally AMC can’t tame its monster-hit, The Walking Dead
Let’s just state the timeline of things: The day after Frank Darabont attended a Comic-Con panel for Season 2, the TV series creator adapted Robert Kirkman’s popular graphic novel and was fired from the show 3 days later over unconfirmed issues with the series budget (asking to reduce $650,000 per episode) which was nearly halfway through its second season. I wasn’t crazy about Darabont’s creative tenure on the series, but I guess that’s not entirely the point. Glen Mazzara was then hired to assume showrunner duties for the second half of Season 2 and you could clearly see the series course-correcting itself by making most of the cast fully realized characters and pick up the pacing on Hershel’s farm. Then Season 3 premiered with a fantastic wordless opening sequence and continued on its merry way with the doom-and-gloom prison and the idyllic, rotting from the inside, town of Woodbury. AMC once again would go on to use TWD as a pawn during its negotiations with DISH, which was then resolved ahead of the Season 3 premiere.
And then over creative differences, AMC and Glen Mazzara released a joint statement about his exit from the series as showrunner at the end of the third season, the second half which resumes in mid-February. They got awfully slick about anticipating the press, as well as the much less forgiving blogosphere. Luckily for all of our entertainment needs, the awful gift of coal kept on dealing dividends when Kurt Sutter and Shawn Ryan, former The Shield collaborators with Mazzara, voiced their opinions:
Shawn Ryan tweeted:
“Breaking my Twitter silence to comment: AMC, WTF?” (https://twitter.com/ShawnRyanTV/status/282205120178044928)
“Common knowledge that AMC cut Breaking Bad shorter than it should have been. Now you have creative differences w/ biggest hit’s savior?” (https://twitter.com/ShawnRyanTV/status/282205486739247106)
“With FX, Showtime, HBO, Starz, Cinemax, A&E, TNT and others to sell to, it’s a real question now why good show runners should sell to AMC?” (https://twitter.com/ShawnRyanTV/status/282206083488043008)
Kurt Sutter was (much) less forgiving:
“AMC is run by small-minded, bottom-line thinkers who have no appreciation or gratitude for the effort of its creative personnel, [time] and time again we see events like what happened today with Glen Mazzara. They continue to disrespect writers, shit on their audience and bury their network. Mazzara took the work-in-progress that was Walking Dead and turned it into a viable TV show with a future. Without him, that future is dim. Showrunners are not development executives, we’re not cookie-cutter douchebags that you plug into a preexisting model. TWD will suffer. Even zombies need consistency. Mad Men and Breaking Bad will be gone soon. So will AMC. I hope their fucking stock takes a dive and the shareholders line up [AMC president and CEO Josh] Sapan, [AMC parent Cablevision founder Charles] Dolan and [AMC president and GM Charlie] Collier and shit in their open hands. Cunts.”
While Sutter has voiced his distaste with how the media has picked up on his choice words, you can’t disagree with him about the perception of things. It seems to be a constant barrage of leaked reports, questionable negotiations and an inability to fully control the situation from a PR perspective. But most of all, it seems to be a major interference on the creative side of things and that’s where I draw the line completely. Since then, AMC has hired Scott Gimple currently serving as supervising producer and who’s been on the series since early Season 2. I wouldn’t be quick to judge the creative strength of his tenure over Season 4 since production hasn’t even begun, but one has to wonder if Mazzara’s TWD worked so well, why fix what isn’t broken?
Even AMC CEO John Sapan has spoken with THR about all of this and I quite frankly haven’t put much stock into what he says, because it comes off as rectifying all the bad publicity. I’ve also been reading the rather great book The Revolution Was Televised by HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, and there’s specific chapters dedicated to Mad Men and Breaking Bad and it just seems there was a different creative culture at the AMC network around 2007-2008 that has seemingly changed since then. And that’s a shame.