AMC Well Running Dry?
Mad Men. Breaking Bad. The Walking Dead.
Six years ago AMC was basically a non-entity. These days they’re a veritable powerhouse, rivaling HBO in terms of critical acclaim and cult fandom. Indeed, they’ve arguably surpassed HBO with the monstrosity that is The Walking Dead – a show that’s brought in ratings never before seen on a cable network.
Now the bad news. Breaking Bad is wrecking hearts and minds across the country as we speak, pulling in close to 5 million viewers per episode. But only 4 episodes remain. Only 4 more adventures with Bryan Cranston and his beautiful bald head.
And AMC will scarcely give fans time to recover from bidding farewell to Walter White before ripping Don Draper from their hearts as well. (Walter White. Breaking Bad. Don Draper. Mad Men. AMC appreciates alliteration.) Mad Men’s final season will run in the spring of 2014, right on the heels of The Walking Dead’s fourth season. And then… silence will fall.
Based on the numbers, it would appear that as long as The Walking Dead stays alive, AMC will not want for eyeballs. With an average of over 11 million viewers per episode during Season 3, the show dwarfs the ratings of critical darlings BB and MM. And The Walking Dead is a nearly bottomless pit in terms of material which producers could dredge up (considering that the comic book series on which it is based is still going strong after 10 years).
But unless AMC wants to officially change its name to WDN (Walking Dead Network), the channel is going to have to pull some pretty impressive rabbits out of its hat. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are going to go down as cultural touchstones of the early 21st century. They have to be on a shortlist with The Wire, The Sopranos, and Lost as the most significant television shows of this era, right? (Yes, I’m putting Lost in there. Even if most everyone still has a bad taste in their mouth from Season 6, the show redefined how you could do network drama. In fact, The Walking Dead owes a lot to Lost, as a character driven fantasy drama.)
AMC’s first attempt to fill the Breaking Bad/Mad Men void appears to be Low Winter Sun. The gritty crime drama, staring Mark Strong, certainly fits the bill of dark, anti-hero driven television that AMC is coming to be known for. It’s all in the tagline for the show: “Good Man. Cop. Killer.” But early returns for the show are not promising. Despite following Breaking Bad on Sunday nights, Low Winter Sun is pulling in less than 2 million viewers per episode, and critics are less than thrilled. But lest anyone panic, Low Winter’s Sun’s weak performance almost certainly doesn’t mean that people are souring on AMC’s gritty style.
More likely, viewer disinterest can be pinned on the paint-by-the-numbers approach that has characterized the show. Marketing for Low Winter Sun seemed to scream: “This is Breaking Bad meets The Wire!” But what’s the point of buying a knock-off brand when you can have the original? Despite it’s title, Low Winter Sun seems to have tried to fly too close to a certain celestial body.
The next two shows in the pipeline for AMC are Halt and Catch Fire and Turn, period dramas starring Lee Pace and Jamie Bell, respectively (both premiering in 2014). Will they stand on their own feet or fall under the weight of comparisons to Mad Men? And leaving new shows aside, can The Walking Dead continue to rivet critics and casual fans alike? How many more bloody innards and brains does the public have a taste for? Has AMC peaked, or is this just the beginning?