AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told analysts at the UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference that he’s “exploring changing the mix of content on AMC” based on the recent success of its zombiefest The Walking Dead – and four non-fiction series he plans to introduce beginning next year. He wasn’t specific about how a revamped channel would look, though. “We’ll see how it goes,” he says. It’s easy to appreciate why he wants to shake up people’s perception of AMC. Pay TV companies currently pay about 25 cents a month for each home that receives the channel. But Sapan says that, with its many original shows, in a perfect world it’s “at minimum a 75 cent channel. …. We’re way underpaid.” He’s a realist, though, acknowledging that “we’re not necessarily going to get that tomorrow.” As a result, Sapan talked up his company’s efficient management of costs. For example, he says that his development costs are “modest.” Although it owns most of its non-fiction shows — “they’re not that expensive,” he says — for most of the shows on AMC “we have chosen not to 100% own.” Sapan says that ”it’s about risk appetite. … If a studio partner is going to come in and fund 30-odd percent of the cost, it’s sensible to de-risk that transaction.” Of course he has second thoughts about not seizing the chance to own AMC’s hit Mad Men. He wasn’t convinced that AMC would do so well with a talky series about ad execs in the 1950s and ’60s. ”It took everybody by surprise,” he says. But he was more confident about Walking Dead. ”That ownership decision was the wisest and best one,” Sapan says.
We’ll see whether the Street is more impressed by AMC’s better-than-expected profits, or disappointed in the worse-than-expected revenues. The cable network company reports 3Q net earnings of $40M, up 58.4%, on revenues of $283.9M, up 4.6%. Analysts thought they’d see revenues of $292.1M. But the earnings, at 55 cents a share, were far ahead of the predicted 44 cents. The company says that domestic ad sales “were essentially flat primarily due to the absence of Mad Men” which ran in last year’s 3Q.
The 3.9% revenue gain for the unit, to $258.3M, was driven by a 6.9% increase in affiliate fees mostly from rate increases. The flip side is that AMC had lower marketing and corporate expenses, boosting the unit’s operating income 24.1% to $99M. AMC had just the opposite situation in its interational operation. Revenues were up 13.8% to $30.7M, helped by higher theatrical revenues from IFC FIlms. Yet the operating loss increased 41.6% to $4M due to higher programming and marketing costs. “The core of our growth strategy continues to be our investment in original programming,” CEO Josh Sapan says. “The Walking Dead season two premiere, which was the highest rated dramatic show ever in basic cable history against key adult demos, and our performance in the 2011-2012 upfront, underscores the strength of this strategy.”
Frank Darabont spent five fruitless years of pitching an idea for a zombie television series. But he’s back on Hollywood’s A-list after The Walking Dead, which he created from Robert Kirkman’s original comic book, generated higher ratings in its first season than any of AMC’s previous original shows. Now Darabont has two Hollywood Guild award nominations to go with his three Oscar nods for writing and directing The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. He talks about his longtime love affair with the undead with Deadline TV Contributor Ray Richmond:
DEADLINE: Are you such a fan of zombies because you work in Hollywood?
FRANK DARABONT: Yes, there are plenty of zombies working in the industry. But I’ve always wanted to tackle the zombie mythos since I was a kid and saw Night of the Living Dead — the original black-and-white version — at a midnight screening. It was just a niche thing then. But I think in the past five years it’s become far more widely embraced. Now it’s like we’re riding the crest of a wave.
DEADLINE: But Walking Dead wasn’t an easy sell.
DARABONT: Oh god no. I’d been trying to set this thing up for five years before AMC took it. It was the first time I’d tried to set up a television series, and it sure seemed like a long time to be out there without a deal. It was considered pretty different and cutting-edge through most of that pitching process. My mantra had been that people were waiting for a really good zombie show. It takes a rare bit of courage to take a …
Broadcast Nets Are Going For Genre And Period Dramas This Development Season, But Can Such Series Work On The Big 4?
Genre series are all the rage in cable with the success of AMC’s The Walking Dead and HBO’s True Blood, which have been breaking series records to rank as their network’s top-rated series and become pop culture staples. A genre series, The Vampire Diaries, also is the highest-rated series on the CW, which has had continuous success in the sci-fi arena with veterans Smallville and Supernatural. But, with the exception of ABC’s Lost, sci-fi, vampire, zombie, fantasy and comic book-based series have struggled to attract sizable audiences on the major broadcast networks. That has not deterred the nets to heavily pursue such projects this development season. The 2 drama pilots ordered so far by Fox are both in the genre category: Locke & Key is based on Joe Hill’s comic, and Alcatraz features missing Alcatraz prisoners who reappear in present day. Genre projects have also attracted some of the biggest writer-producers in town: Lost‘s J.J. Abrams is behind Fox’s series Fringe and Alcatraz, David E. Kelley, who dabbled in sci-fi with Life on Mars, is developing a series adaptation of comic book icon Wonder Woman, Greg Berlanti co-created and is executive producing ABC’s freshman superhero family drama No Ordinary Family, Fringe co-creators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are executive producing Locke & Key, and Battlestar Galactica‘s David Eick is involved in a series adaptation of The Hulk for ABC and …
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. once again went for a mix of critical darlings and pop culture standouts in its TV nominations, with stronger emphasis on popular shows this year. The freshman series that landed first best series noms were the praised HBO drama Boardwalk Empire and Showtime comedy The Big C as well as AMC’s hugely popular zombie drama The Walking Dead. Speaking of popular, Fox’s red-hot Glee was the most nominated program for a second straight year with 5 noms. And CBS hit The Big Bang Theory broke into the best comedy series field, the first multi-camera comedy to do so in 6 years. FX’s highly rated edgy biker drama Sons of Anarchy landed its first mainstream award nomination, a best drama actress nom for Katey Sagal. And two popcorn series, USA’s Covert Affairs and CBS’ Hawaii Five-O, landed surprise nominations, best actress for Piper Perabo and best supporting actor for Scott Caan.
CBS’ The Big Bang Theory scored its first 2 Golden Globe nominations, best comedy series and best lead actor in a comedy series for Emmy winner Jim Parsons. How significant was the best series nom? The last time a multi-camera comedy landed one was Will & Grace 6 years ago. HFPA traditionally overlooks traditional sitcoms for edgier single-camera fare. That especially applies to CBS’ popularmulti-camera comedies . Everybody Loves Raymond, which won 2 best comedy series Emmys among a truckload of other awards, was never nominated for a Golden Globe in the best comedy series category and only landed 2 Globe noms and no wins for star Ray Romano for its entire run. Returning in the best series field, which was expanded to 6 slots this year, are last year’s winner Glee, current Emmy winner Modern Family and previous Globe and Emmy winner 30 Rock. Out are The Office and Entourage, in are Big Bang and 2 Showtime series, Nurse Jackie and The Big C. Showtime nabbed the most series nominations of any network, broadcast or cable, 8. HBO had the most nominations overall, 12. The comedy series acting categories remained virtually unchanged from last year with only one tweak on each side: Laura Linney of the Big C subbing for Courteney Cox, and Parsons taking over for David Duchovny. Returning nominees include Toni Collette of United States of Tara, Edie Falco of Nurse Jackie, Tina Fey of 30 Rock, Lea Michele of Glee, Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock, Steve Carell of The Office, Thomas Jane of Hung and Matthew Morrison of Glee. No love again for NBC’s Parks & Recreation and Community or HBO’s Bored to Death and Eastbound & Down, none of which scored a nom.
Only two new series, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, were able to crack the top series categories for the 2011 WGA Awards for television, which remained largely unchanged from last year, with 4 out of 5 nominees in each category returning from last year. On the drama side, Boardwalk Empire replaced Lost, while Nurse Jackie took over for Curb Your Enthusiasm, which hasn’t aired a fresh season. Lost still got a nice farewell with a nomination in the episodic drama category for the series finale written by Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse. After the comedy breakthrough last year when the New Series category featured four comedies, Glee, Modern Family, Hung and Nurse Jackie, and only one drama, The Good Wife, the pendulum swung the other way, with no comedy series making the cut in the field at all this year. Somewhat surprisingly, AMC’s breakout zombie hit The Walking Dead did make it, joined by another surprise nominee, Ray Romano’s buddy drama Men of a Certain Age, as well as Boardwalk Empire, Justified and Treme. Speaking of surprises, the canceled Sarah Silverman Program on Comedy Central scored a posthumous nom in the episodic comedy category. Overall, Breaking Bad, 30 Rock and Modern Family topped the list with the most nominations, 3 each. Here is the list of the 2011 WGA nominees for TV, news, radio, promotional writing and graphic animation:
Boardwalk Empire, Written by Meg Jackson, Lawrence Konner, Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki, Margaret Nagle, Tim Van Patten, Paul Simms, Terence Winter; HBO
Breaking Bad, Written by Sam Catlin, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Gennifer Hutchison, George Mastras, Tom Schnauz, John Shiban, Moira Walley-Beckett; AMC
Dexter, Written by Scott Buck, Manny Coto, Charles H. Eglee, Lauren Gussis, Chip Johannessen, Jim Leonard, Clyde Phillips, Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, Tim Schlattmann, Wendy West; Showtime
Friday Night Lights, Written by Bridget Carpenter, Kerry Ehrin, Ron Fitzgerald, Etan Frankel, Monica Henderson, David Hudgins, Rolin Jones, Jason Katims, Patrick Massett, Derek Santos Olson, John Zinman; NBC
Mad Men, Written by Jonathan Abrahams, Lisa Albert, Keith Huff, Jonathan Igla, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Brett Johnson, Janet Leahy, Erin Levy, Tracy McMillan, Dahvi Waller, Matthew Weiner; AMC
30 Rock, Written by Jack Burditt, Hannibal Buress, Kay Cannon, Robert Carlock, Tom Ceraulo, Vali Chandrasekaran, Tina Fey, Jon Haller, Steve Hely, Matt Hubbard, Dylan Morgan, Paula Pell, John Riggi, Josh Siegal, Ron Weiner, Tracey Wigfield; NBC
Glee, Written by Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy; Fox
Modern Family, Written by Jerry Collins, Paul Corrigan, Alex Herschlag, Abraham Higginbotham, Elaine Ko, Joe Lawson, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Brad Walsh, Ilana Wernick, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker; ABC
Nurse Jackie, Written by Liz Brixius, Rick Cleveland, Nancy Fichman, Liz Flahive, Jennifer Hoppe-House, Mark Hudis, Linda Wallem, Christine Zander; Showtime
The Office, Written by Jennifer Celotta, Daniel Chun, Greg Daniels, Lee Eisenberg, Brent Forrester, Amelie Gillette, Charlie Grandy, Steve Hely, Jonathan A. Hughes, Mindy Kaling, Carrie Kemper, Jason Kessler, Paul Lieberstein, Warren Lieberstein, B.J. Novak, Peter Ocko, Robert Padnick, Aaron Shure, Justin Spitzer, Gene Stupnitsky, Halsted Sullivan, Jon Vitti; NBC
Boardwalk Empire, Written by Meg Jackson, Lawrence Konner, Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki, Margaret Nagle, Tim Van Patten, Paul Simms, Terence Winter; HBO
Justified, Written by Dave Andron, Wendy Calhoun, Benjamin Cavell, Fred Golan, Gary Lennon, Benjamin Daniel Lobato, Chris Provenzano, Graham Yost; FX
Men of a Certain Age, Written by Bridget Bedard, Warren Hutcherson, Rick Muirragui, Jack Orman, Ray Romano, Mike Royce, Lew Schneider, Mark Stegemann; TNT
Treme, Written by Lolis Eric Elie, David Mills, Eric Overmyer, George Pelecanos, Tom Piazza, Davis Rogan, David Simon; HBO
The Walking Dead, Written by Frank Darabont; Charles H. Eglee, Robert Kirkman, Jack LoGiudice, Glen Mazzara; AMC
EXCLUSIVE TUESDAY 5PM: I hear The Walking Dead writer/ executive producer/ director Frank Darabont has let go of the writers on the hot freshman AMC series, which has already renewed for a second season. That includes Darabont’s No. 2, writing executive producer Charles “Chic” Eglee. Writer turnover on series between seasons is commonplace but wholesale overhauls are unusual. What’s more, I hear Darabont is looking to forgo having a writing staff for the second season of Walking Dead altogether and assign scripts to freelancers.
Darabont, who hails from the feature world with The Young Indiana Jones as the only series credit before Walking Dead, ended up writing 2 of the first season’s 6 episodes of Walking Dead – the pilot and the second episode – and co-writing/rewriting the other 4. Two of those 4 were written by non-staff writers, one by executive producer Robert Kirkman, on whose comics the series is based, and one by Glen Mazzara. The freelance model is employed by the Starz/BBC series Tourchwood, which in turn borrowed it from the U.K. where the show originated. Having BBC as producer has allowed Torchwood to proceed with no writing staff but I hear such a plan on an U.S.-based network series such as Walking Dead may face issues with …
Robert Kirkman’s bestselling comic series The Walking Dead, which already migrated to TV with the upcoming AMC series, will now spawn a trilogy of original novels to be published by Thomas Dunne books, an imprint of St. Martins Press, starting in 2011. The books will be conceptualized and outlined by Kirkman before being developed by horror novelist Jay Bonansinga (Perfect Victim). The books’ plots will take place in the “universe” or context established by Kirkman’s comic series, which is currently in its 77th issue and has sold approximately three million copies worldwide. AMC’s The Walking Dead premieres on October 31.
After the parade of vampire TV series, AMC is giving equal time to flesh eating zombies. Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead starts its run on Halloween, October 31st, with a 90-minute premiere at 10 PM, but the cable network has put up a teaser.
FRIDAY, JULY 23
STAR WARS DAY (This is a meaningless appellation unless and until George Lucas sees fit to say or do anything regarding the proposed live-action TV series.)
Luke Y Thompson covers Hollywood events at the Con for Deadline:
10:15-11:15 AM: Aloha, Earth! Have you heard they’re doing a new HAWAII FIVE-O TV show? Do you care? Well, you might want to attend the panel anyway, as the show’s executive producers are STAR TREK/TRANSFORMERS scribes Orci and Kurtzman, the director of the pilot is UNDERWORLD’s Len Wiseman, and it stars Daniel Dae Kim (LOST) and Grace Park (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA). Sure, they’ll try to steer the discussion toward this new show rather than talk about what you actually want them to talk about, but it’s a chance to see ‘em all at once anyway. Room 6BCF
11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Star Wars Day: Hasbro Panel. If you’re at Comic-Con, chances are you’ve owned STAR WARS toys at some point. Wanna see some new ones? This is the place. Room 7AB
11:00 AM-1:00 PM: Comic-Con How-To Session: Costuming with Sabrina Belly Dancer. From the official schedule: “Sabrina will show how to create a costume bra top for hall costumes or a masquerade performance.” In saying that, it has practically guaranteed that all the creepy raincoat dudes will come out of the woodwork for this one. Room 18
11:00 AM-12:00 PM: Mattel and DC Comics: A Heroic Partnership. Fans of action-figure collecting love Mattel’s DC superhero toys, and hate how hard …