I’m sure some will beg to differ, but I thought last night’s episode of Billions was amongst the series’ best. It felt feature length and in season 4, it continues to get better and better.
Big thumbs up to the premiere of Killing Eve as well.
Virginia and Texas Tech square up for what has to be the least compelling NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game in recent memory.
Making sense of Selling Sunset, a show I finished, begrudgingly.
I’m caught up on The Act. Patricia Arquette deserves 100x any praise or recognition she currently receives. She’s magnificent.
Page Six TV has been canceled.
IFC has renewed Documentary Now! for a 4th season.
CBS is moving LeBron James’ Million Dollar Mile to Saturdays.
“Longtime friends and producing partners Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have decided to go their separate ways professionally, TheWrap has learned. Ferrell and McKay — who first met when they were both hired on Saturday Night Live in 1995 and are the creative minds behind films like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers — are committed to working together on the lengthy slate of projects in development under their company, Gary Sanchez Productions, which was created 13 years ago with Chris Henchy, an individual with knowledge of the situation tells TheWrap. Ferrell and McKay’s Sanchez banner and its female-focused offshoot, Gloria Sanchez Productions, will continue with all existing projects through completion, with the producers attached to those films and TV series remaining in place, the individual says.”
“The Writers Guild of America has announced a six-day delay on implementing tightened rules on Hollywood agents, temporarily averting a potentially chaotic scenario that has unnerved the industry in recent days. The WGA announced in a message to members at 9:26 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday that it would wait until 12:01 am on April 13 to implement its new ‘Code of Conduct.’ The rules — which would have required WGA members to fire their agents had they not signed the code — would have gone into effect a few hours later at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The move came after a three-hour meeting between guild leaders and talent agents a few hours earlier on Saturday afternoon, according to the WGA’s negotiating committee. The get-together at WGA West headquarters in Los Angeles had been kept under wraps and many were caught by surprise when the delay on implementing the WGA code was announced. Neither side disclosed specifics on the apparent compromises.”
“ABC has picked up multiple episodes of a new family-oriented game show called Don’t, executive produced by Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds. In the show, created by Banijay Studios North America, families of four will compete against each other in Simon Says-like mental and physical challenges in which they are instructed to “don’t” something — like slipping, laughing, speaking, screaming or forgetting. Family members who ‘do’ the forbidden action are eliminated — until one contestant emerges victorious and that family wins a cash prize. The network has not slated the project.”
“Tom Selleck is working on a memoir, and it won’t just be about acting. The veteran actor has a deal with Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. The book, announced Monday, is currently untitled and does not yet have a release date. According to Dey Street, his book will illuminate a half-century of Hollywood ‘and of America.’ Selleck, who became a household name in the 1980s thanks to Magnum, P.I. and the Three Men and a Baby movie franchise, enjoyed a career renaissance in the 1990s as Monica’s older beau on Friends and has starred on the CBS drama Blue Bloods since 2010.”
“Fox wants to make some of its commercial interruptions so short that viewers can’t run out on them. Executives representing the Fox broadcast network have been discussing a commercial pod they call a ‘Fast Break’ during recent development meetings with media buyers, according to three people familiar with the situation. The pod would appear as the first in a particular program broadcast and contain just 60 seconds of national commercials, these people said. They will contain no more than three different ads lasting 15 seconds to 30 seconds. Just before the break comes on the air, viewers would be told the ad interruption would last just a minute, according to one of these people. Fox isn’t the only network working to cut back on the dozens of commercials for air fresheners, gadgets and allergy medications flung at couch potatoes every hour (NBCUniversal has been trying the same) but it has been among the most ready to test new methods. Earlier this TV season, Fox rolled out a concept known as a ‘JAZ Pod,’ or a two-commercial break that has aired during episodes of The Orville and in programs on certain Sunday broadcasts.”
Per The Ringer, “[y]ou haven’t seen Game of Thrones. You couldn’t find Dorne on a map if someone paid you. You know Sansa better as Nicole Cliffe’s dog than as a member of House Stark. When you hear ‘Daenerys’ you start looking for Daenerys exit (sorry).
“Still, maybe you’ve always wanted to watch. When Binge Mode content crosses your screen, you think, ‘someday.’ Maybe last year you swore you’d find the time to catch up before Season 8, but you didn’t—and now, with a little more than a week before the final season’s premiere, you can’t. That ship has sailed, but there’s still a way—an unconventional, extremely controversial way—to start watching now.
“In summer 2017, Game of Thrones Season 7 was on the horizon. I copy edit at The Ringer but had never watched the show. When I proofed Binge Mode copy or worked on our episode rankings, I would look for subject-verb agreement and double-check comma placement—everything else was more or less incomprehensible. Copy editing Game of Thrones content was not entirely unlike reading a technical sports piece for me (incredibly, I started working here with little knowledge of either). As the premiere approached, I dreaded another two months of content with confusing proper nouns, hierarchies I couldn’t keep track of, dramatic backstories that came and went in a flurry, and dynasties that rose and fell in a week’s time. But enough about tennis!
“I took matters into my own hands—I still didn’t understand how the NBA draft lottery worked, but prestige television I could handle. I decided to jump in and start watching Game of Thrones Season 7 like the rest of the staff, so I wouldn’t be at a total loss when the copy rolled in.
“Maybe, unlike me, your day job doesn’t involve confirming which vowels are in Targaryen five times a day. But maybe you’re sick of logging off Twitter every Sunday night for six weeks while everyone else freaks out about wolves and ice zombies. In fact, with the rise of streaming services, many critics have forecasted that Game of Thrones is the last of its kind—a serialized show millions tune into weekly, the act of watching at once personal and ubiquitous. This could be your last chance to ride the comet of collective cultural engagement. If you want to enjoy the final season of Game of Thrones, you still can. Here are a few tips to help you break the rules of television and start watching Game of Thrones the wrong way:
1. Watch as much of Season 7 as you can.
Everyone knows that season finales often contain monumental events that shape the scope of the season to come. Prior to watching Season 7 in 2017, I watched the final episode of Season 6 first. Even though I didn’t have all the context for what I saw in “The Winds of Winter,” it was epic as hell and set the tone for (and let me know who would still be standing in) Season 7.
I recommend a similar strategy for Season 8. You still have a week—I would cram all of Season 7 if you can. (There are only seven episodes—it’s doable.) That said, if you can’t handle that, the episodes to prioritize are the fourth, sixth, and seventh. If you can’t handle that (this is a guide for slackers, but you’re pushing it!), at least watch the final two episodes.
Hold on—you can just do that? You can parachute into a complex, critically acclaimed, canon-rich television drama and follow it, let alone enjoy it? You can. In fact, you’re about to really lean into the chaos in order to rise above the way you understand television (it’s kind of like a ladder).
2. Start watching another season.
While I was watching Season 7 in real time every Sunday night, I also began watching mid-Season 3 for backstory. The thought of going back to Season 1 was overwhelming, the chasm simply too large to bridge, so I chose what felt like the middlest of the middle to start watching. It was just as ridiculous as it sounded. I preferred this method to reading several dozen episode recaps because the show is awesome, and recaps are boring. Eventually, though, I just said “Fuck it” and started watching Season 1, Episode 1, meaning that I was essentially watching three timelines at the same time.
Disclaimer: If watching Thrones out of order incenses you, please stop reading. But also, I already did it—I watched it out of order and enjoyed it and there’s nothing you can do about it. Be mad! The deed is done! The past is written and the ink is dry!
Back to Step 2: Watching past seasons of the show naturally deepens your investment in the characters and stories, which I’ll elaborate on below. Start with “Walk of Punishment” and work in Season 1 chronologically as you see fit.
3. Embrace spoilers and revel in the meta text.
Now to address the ice dragon in the room. Don’t people lose their minds over Game of Thrones spoilers? Doesn’t watching a show out of order … ruin it?
Let me be clear: They do, but it doesn’t. When I started my journey, I assumed everything would be “spoiled,” but decided I wouldn’t care since I wasn’t invested in the show. What I found instead was that (a) actually, yes, this show is pretty awesome, and (b) knowing major plot points didn’t at all take away from enjoying it. Game of Thrones has enough last-second heroics, small acts of mercy, and inventive ways of murdering people that there’s no need to hang your entire gratification on a few major events.
As modern media consumers, we’re already savvy to flashback as a narrative device. Sure, I watched various families struggle over disparate timelines, and yes, I knew some people who existed in one timeline clearly didn’t survive into another. But also, that is literally the premise of This Is Us! It’s really not that big a deal. Plus, on any given day on Twitter, major outlets casually drop major spoilers alongside viewers who are still blindsided by the Red Wedding in 2019. All bets are off.
Also, knowing some major plot elements didn’t spoil the impact of others. I knew that Joffrey would kick the bucket eventually, but I didn’t know when, how, or why. I didn’t see it coming, and when it happened I felt the same mix of pleasure and revulsion I’m sure others did watching it chronologically. Lysa Arryn’s revelation to Littlefinger 20 minutes into “First of His Name” is still one of the wildest moments of the whole series for me. There was no projectile bleeding, no dramatic sword unsheathing, no deus ex machina direwolf. Just an unhinged whisper echoing off a chamber wall as Petyr Baelish sweated through his cloaks.
I don’t think this could work on a lesser show or film, but for Game of Thrones, which is so deep and well thought out, watching three seasons simultaneously offered a new way to appreciate the text. Don’t get me wrong—a great twist is thrilling. But often it’s just another machination of melodrama, and with a show as rich as Thrones, there’s plenty to enjoy without tying yourself in knots over spoilers. And I still lost my entire mind when the last few minutes of Season 7 rolled.
4. Acquire background as you need it.
Just as you must accept that you know “too much” about a given plot, you must also accept that you don’t know enough. My boyfriend (who watched the series the “right” way) was around to fill in any blanks, offer a quick character background, and answer queries like “What’s a wildling?,” “Why does everyone have to be nice to Walder Frey?,” and “Where’s Cersei’s husband?” Sometimes I had to make do with answers that didn’t totally make sense (“It was a hunting accident … kind of”), and I never really got [gestures vaguely] Bran’s whole deal, but the fumes were enough to get me from one episode to the next. I didn’t need to know where the dragons came from or how Tyrion got his scar. I just needed to know who to root for in any given sword fight (this is kind of how I got through college football season too).
Ideally you, too, have a Thrones fanatic among your friends or family who will, with pleasure, respond posthaste to a quick text. If not—spoiler alert: shameless plug incoming—The Ringer’s Path to the Throne videos on the Lannisters, Targaryens, and Starks will do a great job with the broad strokes (warning: They’ve read the books!), and The New York Times also has an attractive packageto help you navigate the series.
5. Eventually rewatch the whole thing chronologically.
Breathe a sigh of relief, diehards! My tri-timeline method was never an effort to CliffsNotes Games of Thrones and call it a day. It was to get up to speed as quickly as possible for Season 7 and not feel like I was reading Greek at work (but enough about baseball!). I always knew I would fill in the blanks another day. This spring, I watched Game of Thrones from the beginning, which meant rewatching some episodes and watching seasons 2, 5, and 6 for the first time.
Of course I had seen multiple “spoilers” by this point, but there was plenty I was seeing for the first time. In Season 2, I watched Cersei, whom I had only known as a ruthless, uncompromising monarch, confess to Tyrion that Joffrey was a scary, wretched person—and that he may even be punishment for her sins. I had never seen her this vulnerable, this penitent. She seemed more naked to me than she did in Season 5. Moments like these were as thrilling as any unexpected evisceration, immolation, decapitation, or defenestration.
I have friends who would rather tear their fingernails off than watch a show out of order. That’s fine! This method isn’t for everyone. But discerning which ancient prophecy will be fulfilled in Season 8 by freeze-framing a teaser trailer and mapping out which Weirwood appears in the reflection of Dany’s eyeball at 00:02:16 is also not for everyone. No method is good or bad or better or worse, they’re just different ways of appreciating the same text.
Living in fear of spoilers or being afraid you’re not experiencing a cultural touchstone the “right” way is just another way to feel anxious. Game of Thrones is great, but it isn’t perfect, and it’s ridiculous to act like shuffling the deck a bit ruins the game entirely (hello, Star Wars). It’s 2019: Donald Trump is still president, the sea levels are still rising, and you can watch TV however you want to. Shaking off the preciousness of prestige TV didn’t preclude me from falling in love with a show, it just made me realize how conscripted my pop culture consumption—and the innate pleasure therein—had become.
Still, Season 8 will be a different beast. There are only six episodes, half of which are more than an hour long. The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been, characters with good hearts who have survived seven seasons will die, and you might find out who “wins” the Iron Throne before you learn what a Baratheon is. It’s a tall order, a journey you don’t have to go on.
That said, on my rewatch I finally understood Bran’s plotline of becoming the all-seeing, all-knowing Three-Eyed Raven, and I came up with a fan theory of my own. My serpentine viewing pattern wasn’t brash iconoclasm, but in line with one of the biggest themes of the story—not rappelling the gossamer divide between societal alliances, rising above preordained prophecies, or dating your sister—the power of seeing past, present, and future at once and deciding what you want to do with that knowledge.
To further the metaphor, watching Thrones the “wrong” way means you aren’t walking through the series—you’re flying above it, able to see different characters at different points in their lives, which adds a unique, rich layer as a viewer. But only you can decide whether you want to start watching a prestige, majorly hyped show out of order. I don’t regret my decision; I think of what the Three-Eyed Raven said of young Jojen Reed, who could also see multiple timelines, and the journey his gift took him on: “He knew what would happen. From the moment he left, he knew. And he went anyway.”
Per The Hollywood Reporter, “[a] year after he was promoted to chief content officer of all things The Walking Dead, former showrunner Scott M. Gimple is making good on his plans to expand the franchise.
“On Monday, AMC formally announced that it has picked up what is now the third series in the zombie drama's larger world with a 10-episode order for an untitled drama co-created by Gimple and longtime flagship writer Matt Negrete. The latter, who has been a writer and producer on The Walking Dead for the past five seasons, will serve as showrunner. Coincidentally, Negrete and Gimple collaborated on the season nine episode ("What Comes After") that served as the last one for series star Andrew Lincoln, who will reprise his role as embattled former sheriff Rick Grimes in three TV movies for AMC. It's unclear if the new spinoff will be connected to those movies. It's unclear if any characters from either The Walking Dead or spinoff Fear the Walking Dead will have a role in the third series. Stars and fan favorites Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Melissa McBride (Carol) have ‘franchise deals’ that allow them to move freely between all corners of the universe, for example.
"‘I’m beyond excited to be a part of this new show set in The Walking Dead universe,’ Negrete said. ‘Writing and producing for the original series has been the job of a lifetime and I’m honored to be working with Scott and all the fine Dead folks at AMC in this new capacity. I can’t wait for the fans of the franchise to see what we’ve been cooking up!’
“Few details were immediately available about the third series other than that it will feature two young female protagonists and focus on the first generation to come of age in the apocalypse as viewers know it. Production will begin in the summer in Virginia for a 2020 premiere on AMC. The Lord of the Flies-like series will feature a new corner of the world. Here's AMC's formal description: ‘Some will become heroes. Some will become villains. In the end, all of them will be changed forever. Grown-up and cemented in their identities, both good and bad.’ The order arrives as the original series introduced (and, spoiler alert, killed off) several younger characters in season nine.
"‘Showing audiences an unseen pocket of The Walking Dead universe steeped in a new mythology is a very cool way to celebrate a Decade of the Dead on TV and over 15 years of [creator] Robert Kirkman’s brilliant comic,’ Gimple said. ‘Matt Negrete is one of the best writer-producers in TWD’s long history — I'm thrilled to be working beside him to tell stories unlike we’ve seen before, taking our first step into an even larger world.’
“The news comes a week after The Walking Dead closed out its ninth season with its smallest-ever finale. Despite weathering a string of series lows in its ninth season many critics have praised new showrunner Angela Kang's creative take. That is no small feat given that TWD said farewell to Lincoln, the central comic character who remains the focal point of Kirkman's ongoing comics and parted ways with fan-favorite Lauren Cohan (Maggie) following a salary standoff gone bad. (She remains open to returning and previously told THR that there have been conversations about a spinoff featuring Maggie, who remains alive in the world of the show.)
“The untitled Negrete series is the first new series to stem from Gimple's March 2018 promotion to chief content officer, a role he was given after Kirkman moved his overall deal from AMC to Amazon. Gimple and Kang wrote Lincoln out of the flagship drama so the actor could spend more time with his family at home in England. Gimple will reteam with Lincoln for three TV movies that will air on AMC and could potentially serve as backdoor pilots for other series. Production on those is set to begin in 2019 though its unclear just where they will be filmed. TWD is filmed in Atlanta, while spinoff Fear the Walking Dead has used locations in L.A., Canada, Baja and Texas. Overall, there are now three scripted series and three planned stand-alone movies in the world of TWD as franchises increasingly become valuable to broadcast, cable and streaming platforms alike.
“The third Walking Dead series was announced during an AMC press day Monday in New York, where sibling network IFC announced a renewal for comedy Documentary Now, while BBC America announced a large commitment to wildlife content, including network transformation every Saturday for a year. AMC also set premiere dates for The Terror: Infamy (Aug. 12 at 9 p.m.) and season two of Lodge 49 (Aug. 12 at 10 p.m.).”
This article has been condensed.
Per Deadline, “Netflix has released the trailer for Homecoming, the upcoming Beyoncé documentary chronicling the star’s 2018 Coachella performance. The film debuts April 17.
“The trailer shows footage of Beyoncé and her large crew of dancers, musicians and other creatives in preparation for the show. At first the footage unspools with only the voice of the late Maya Angelou heard as narration (‘What I really want to do is be a representative of my race – the human race,’ and ‘Tell the truth. To yourself and to the children’). About halfway through, as the film moves from rehearsals to the actual stage performance, crowd sounds and drum beats of a marching band emerge.
“Netflix describes Homecoming as an ‘intimate, in-depth look at Beyoncé’s celebrated 2018 Coachella performance” that “reveals the emotional road from creative concept to cultural movement.’
“The streaming service teased today’s trailer yesterday with a single-word tweet ‘Homecoming,’ setting off considerable social media chatter among the singer’s huge fan base.
“Beyoncé had to cancel a 2017 Coachella date because of her pregnancy. The 2018 appearance was livestreamed and highlighted by a Destiny’s Child reunion, drawing mostly rave reviews.”
Per Vulture, “Killing Eve wasn’t the biggest TV hit of 2018 in terms of overall audience, but it was arguably the year’s most impressive success story. Despite airing on the mid-sized cable network BBC America, the Sandra Oh–led thriller became a word-of-mouth sensation over its two-month run last spring. Its audience nearly doubled between its premiere and finale, and its ratings among key demo groups increased every single week it aired. Critics were rapturous, and even opposite well-funded awards campaigns from shows on HBO, Netflix, and Hulu, Eve managed to snag several big Emmy and Golden Globe nominations (with Oh winning the Globe for best actress in a drama). “It is incredibly rare, and probably only getting rarer, for shows to break through in the kinds of ways that Killing Eve has,” says Sarah Barnett, who green-lit the show in her past role as head of BBC America.
“Not long after Eve exploded, Barnett was promoted: She’s now president of the entertainment networks group at AMC Networks, overseeing AMC, IFC, and SundanceTV in addition to BBC America. And in one of her first big moves since taking on the new gig, Barnett is betting Eve can get even bigger. She’s decided that, starting with Sunday’s season-two premiere, Evewill be simulcast on both BBCA and the much, much bigger AMC. Because AMC reaches about 10 million more TV homes than BBCA — and has a much bigger cultural footprint thanks to hits such as The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul — the shift all but guarantees more people will discover Evethis season. While it’s not a particularly risky gambit, the move underscores how old-school cable groups like AMC Networks increasingly must experiment in order to compete in the streaming era.
“Vulture recently spent an hour talking with Barnett about Eve’s stunning rise and her plans to expand the show’s audience. She also discussed a slew of other topics related to her new gig, including what’s next for The Walking Dead franchise, the possibility of an Orphan Black spinoff, how she’s working to increase cultural diversity and representation across her four networks, and why fans of Better Call Saul will have to wait a little bit longer for season five:
Let’s talk about Killing Eve. The show’s rating surge in season one was amazing. How did that happen?
It is incredibly rare, and probably only getting rarer, for shows to break through in the kinds of ways that Killing Eve has. Killing Eve was a perfect storm of various things coming together. First and foremost, the show was so bloody good. And then, people love to recommend it. When you have that, along with the ability for social media to amplify and blow something up in the way that only it can, then you can have this very rare streak of [ratings] growing through a season.
Do you expect it’ll get even bigger in season two?
Our hope is that the show has grown exponentially since the end of [season one]. We really hope that the audience on AMC and BBC America will be quite a lot bigger than even the audience for the finale on BBC America. The [sales] numbers for the show on [iTunes and Amazon] have been extraordinary. We hear anecdotally Hulu are very pleased with the performance of the show on that platform. So we do think that it’s a show that, even in today’s incredibly fragmented content world, could have a nice surge for season two.
Any specific data you might offer to illustrate that growth?
It’s not data we traditionally share, I’m afraid. But we can share the awards we won [laughs] which were quite phenomenal! And it was the No. 1 show in the aggregated critics best-of end-of-year lists. So all of that really goes to create a very fizzy moment for Killing Eve.
Do you think it’s also an argument for episodic air patterns as a marketing tool? The week-to-week of it all helped build word of mouth.
I do. It’s hard to talk specifically about this, but there’s something about the pleasure of anticipation, as well as the more shared experience of viewing on a weekly basis that goes into creating some behaviors that are quite powerful for people. Killing Eve is an example of a show that has fueled that.
When we look at the underlying things that may be getting lost in the more atomized way we’re watching telly these days, we think about that quite a lot. We are very thoughtful about not just the jagged edges we want to retain with our shows, but also the particular business models we operate in, the particular consumption patterns that relate to our business models, and how we can best pull those things together to create content that satisfies our audiences.
You’re also using Killing Eve to expose a larger audience to A Discovery of Witches, which has already run on your Shudder and Sundance Now streaming platforms, but is now going to air weekly after Eve on both AMC and BBC America. Is the hope that the added exposure can make it much bigger?
Yeah, it absolutely is. We’re experimenting. We believed that there was an ability for Discovery of Witches to be on both Shudder and Sundance Now and even AMC Premiere, and not cannibalize those audiences — and that luckily proved to be true. Again, like so many others, we don’t share the numbers of our streaming services, but the results were really quite encouraging. We’re excited about how much we can build an audience for something like A Discovery of Witches, which is genre, which has IP that people know, which looks lavish. It’s sort of posh, but it’s broad in its appeal. It has Matthew Goode and Teresa Palmer. It has a lot of things that we believe can translate across some of our different platforms. We think there’s a lot of untapped opportunity to be nimble and targeted but quite thoughtful and innovative about how we move our content between platforms. I mean, it’s all an experiment. When it goes on air on AMC and BBC America on April 7th, we will see.
Let’s talk about your recent promotion and your new role. When it was announced, you talked about it being a more efficient way to run the group. Explain that to me. How does it help to take these four brands, which are very different in a lot of ways, and consolidate them under one person?
While our brands are different, there are some quality storytelling touchpoints that go across AMC, BBC America, IFC, and Sundance. Killing Eve is a show that we developed at BBC America, very much with a British sensibility, albeit with a broader American star like Sandra Oh. That show also connects with AMC because the storytelling swings are quite big and quite splashy and quite broad. There’s a familiarity to the thriller genre. Killing Eve is a good example of [something] incubated on a brand like BBC America to take some big risks, but then has built into it those storytelling DNA aspects that can translate to a bigger, broader platform like AMC.
A lot of your rivals have been consolidating, too. Turner recently was folded into WarnerMedia, along with HBO. Viacom has put all their scripted stuff into one linear brand, Paramount Network. Is this sort of internal bundling what it’s all about now? In order to survive against Netflix and Amazon, you need to get bigger?
Obviously we live in a very fast-changing, disrupted media landscape where the competitors are bulking up and becoming bigger. We profoundly don’t believe that there’s only room for giants or giantesses. There’s something quite special about maintaining our distinction as an independent player. We think there’s this interesting space we’re carving out here at AMC Networks, which is to maintain distinct brands, to maintain a distinct curatorial offer to our audiences, to maintain a very sharp focus in terms of the kinds of stories you want to tell, and also to take advantage of the collective heft of our audiences across the different channels that we have.
We’re not so attracted to blurring-the-edges-between things. We want to be quite laser-focused on what it is each brand in this company does, and then use the increasingly sophisticated audience analytic data we have to be very precise about how we’re moving people around. In the end, the thing that we think that we have — which we’ve always had — is an eye for spotting talent and, frankly, seeing gold where others don’t. You think about the fact that the company was built on three rejected scripts which were passed by. The smartest and richest people making television at the time didn’t pick up these scripts: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. Times have changed and competition is more fierce, but I don’t think it’s just the largest or the richest media companies that spot these things. And Killing Eve is indeed is another example of that. It was a script that was passed on.
Was Fleabag from Phoebe Waller-Bridge out when Eve came about?
It wasn’t quite, actually. We looked at Fleabag — before Amazon bought it — for BBC America. We really loved what we saw and we missed the chance to buy it. We weren’t really in the business of buying half-hour comedies, but we loved her voice. So before it actually aired on Amazon, before it even aired in BBC Three in the U.K., we already knew that she was incredible. Someone on my programming team at BBC America found this script that had been developed initially with Sky TV in the U.K., and we pounced knowing that she was about to blow up. So it’s seeing that talent. I talk a lot — everyone talks a lot — about our deep-pocketed competitors, and that’s certainly true. I do think there’s room for players of many different sizes. I also think that if it was all about placing orders and writing checks, then everyone would have a Killing Eve and a Walking Dead and a Better Call Saul — and they don’t.
The possible downside is you risk losing the unique vision of each network, right? Is one of your challenges in this new job to make sure you don’t bigfoot your smaller brands, or micromanage the person developing shows for IFC or BBC America?
Definitely. We want to keep the jagged edges on all of our content. We want all of our content to continue to feel as startling and fresh as Documentary Now! on IFC does, as State of the Union on Sundance, as Killing Eve on BBC America. I don’t know that I really believe in friction in the system. Everyone has a different way of driving results; I really believe in clear direction and great collaboration. As the world is bulking up, I think it’s absolutely necessary for us not to be fighting internally over pieces, or competing internally.
If it was all about placing orders and writing checks, then everyone would have aKilling Eve and aWalking Dead and a Better Call Saul — and they don’t.
AMC is the mothership of the four channels you oversee. What’s your sense of where its brand is right now? Do you want to radically evolve from what the network has been doing in recent years?
AMC has always been at its best when it subverted itself and surprised the world. So, I think about Mad Men being an unusual choice. It certainly wasn’t the commercial or the obvious or even the predictable choice for that moment. But it really resonated. Then I think about Breaking Bad. That seemed like such a left-field kind of choice, particularly at a time when networks were starting to be very tightly branded. And then obviously The Walking Dead.
AMC has always been at its best when it’s just taken a sharp left turn. So I don’t think you’ll see us imitating anyone, even ourselves, as we make choices going forward. It’s certainly not about being snobby. We can embrace a genre as well as character shows, but I do think that having some big swings and a fresh voice is absolutely part of the formula. We are going to have to keep surprising ourselves and surprising the world in order to be distinctive in a world of bigger manufacturers. We’re never going to have the same kinds of traffic on our platforms like some of our bigger competitors. Voice, freshness, originality can do so much heavy lifting. That is crucially important for us.
Is there anything you want to see more of on AMC, or any of your networks?
Couple of things. One is format. A show like State of the Union, which is premium long-form storytelling in a short-form format, is really exciting. It certainly excited Nick Hornby very much. We have something in development I’m very excited about — the working title is Kevin Can Fuck Himself, but we’re probably going to change it. Rashida Jones is one of the executive producers. It starts out as a multi-cam sitcom — the regular American family [where] the wife rolls her eyes at the slightly annoying husband, but you kind of love him — and then it switches to a single-camera drama and you see what she really feels. It becomes a slightly preposterous, picaresque thing. The way that it’s playing with storytelling is really exciting.
That’s too bad about the title. I really loved it …
We love it, too, and that’s why we went with it in the announcement about opening a writers room. We may well keep it if the show gets green-lit. There are many voices that will need to feed into a discussion about what you can do on an ad-supported network — with program-guide info and everything else a title impacts — but equally, its boldness would help it stand out in all the cacophony. Those will be the things we weigh up, so who knows?
Got it. So, what else do you want to see more of on your networks?
I think AMC has been incredibly good, for very many years, at telling complex stories about masculinity. A lot of the shows have very strong female characters, [but] there are a lot more stories to be told in our world about complicated women. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface. I continue to be very interested in that. And then, we have a lot of ambition on the BBC America side around the natural history shows. We just signed another deal with BBC Studios, who make the best natural history documentaries in the world.
The other thing that I’m really excited about is the opportunity around the Walking Dead universe and a potential third show, and the extraordinary advantage I have walking into this role with [what’s] still the biggest show on cable by some measure. [Walking Dead showrunner] Angela Kang has done a sterling job.
You anticipated my next question. As a reporter, it’s sort of a law I ask about The Walking Dead, and specifically the ratings declines. You’re absolutely right the show remains ahead of anything else on cable, at least until the return of Game of Thrones. But with same-day numbers in particular going down pretty sharply versus, say, two years ago, are you not at all worried about zombie fatigue? Or is it just a reflection that everything in TV is struggling with ratings losses?
Our decline has really mirrored the declines across basic cable — we just had higher to fall from. The fact that we are still the No. 1 show by a margin of two to one is quite something. One of the things that I take such encouragement from is the fact that our ratings are pretty stabilized. We did see declines at the beginning of [season nine], but through all of the back half of this season, we are seeing the kind of stability that we’ve never really seen in this property before. We believe that we’ve hit a core, and that if that core sits around the numbers it is, it will continue to be a complete phenomenon in cable TV in 2019. And we do believe there is audience and untapped creative opportunity within this show, and in exploring some new worlds and new characters that are related to this incredibly rich, strong universe. The stability of the audience, the fact that it’s still such a powerhouse, and the fact that Angela has been able to reinvent, reenergize the show in this current season is something that we feel genuinely excited about.
In terms of a new spinoff, would you say the odds of that happening in the next, say, two years are 99 percent or 100 percent?
[Laughs.] We’re feeling pretty good about the development of the show three. Yup.
Will you have something to announce in time for your upfront season?
These things, you just never know. You just never, ever know how difficult deals are. You think you’re close to something you’re not; you think you’re not, you are. It’s just difficult to know if all the pieces line up.
Do you talk about an endgame for the original series? Even Dick Wolf’s Law and Order eventually ended. Do you talk about interim steps, such as not splitting the season to reducing the episodic count to make it a little more of an event? Do you do talk about doing one more three-year arc and then calling it quits? Or do you just think it just goes on and on, and maybe it’ll be like Grey’s Anatomy?
Grey’s Anatomy is a good analogue. We’re pretty encouraged with where we are right now. We know it’s not going to run forever — nothing does — but we’re pretty happy with where we are.
On the other side of the Nielsen spectrum, Lodge 49 got amazing critical acclaim, but the audience was not huge. Is that a show you think can grow a lot in season two, ratings-wise? Or do you just let it exist at its current audience level as a sort of niche play?
Lodge 49 is such a unique, original gem of a show. It’s a show that’s a perfect expression of itself. Every single choice it’s made, it’s been exactly right. I don’t think any of us expect Lodge 49 to be a hugely commercial show. We would very much hope to sustain, and it would be great to think we could grow the audience. But one of the things we believe is that we do have room for The Walking Dead and for Killing Eve and for Lodge 49. We certainly don’t need everything to fit into any kind of formulaic storytelling or shape, and therefore audience size. We’ll see with something like Lodge 49. You always hope that SVOD platforms will play a discovery role for audiences in finding shows.
You can’t always be patient, obviously. Your predecessor made the call to cancel Dietland, which also had strong reviews, a few weeks before you took over. Any thoughts on that?
I thought it was a really fantastic swing.
Shows are ending sooner than they used to, and making fewer episodes each season. It seems in a lot of ways that American TV is becoming more like British TV, where shows often go two or three seasons and make under 20 episodes, but are still considered to be a success. Do you think we’re going to see more of that here? Are you open to doing more shorter-run shows?
We’ve generally, at this company, been pretty good at having shows complete their run when the creators really feel that the story is complete. We did it with Mad Men and with Breaking Bad on AMC. We did it with Orphan Black on BBC America. That’s something that audiences really care about.
The changing patterns of consumption and the ways that is informing how long shows run for, there’s a lot of frothy conversation right now about it. I don’t draw any definitive conclusions. We’ll continue to shape the show to size it in the right way for its creative bones. And obviously, there’s a factor of audience response. Sometimes even the things that you love just don’t connect with an audience. But I don’t have a dogmatic point of view right now about only making two or three seasons of any particular show.
Do you have a status update on season five of Better Call Saul? When is it coming back?
We said on our most recent earnings call that the series would come back for season five next year.
Oh, I missed that. So Better Call Saul, not until 2020. That’s something else which has become increasingly common these days — big shows taking longer breaks between seasons. But if it’s what the creator needs and wants …
Yes. It’s driven by talent needs, which we would not override if it would result in a worse show.
Do you think that Better Call Saul, unlike Walking Dead, has a more limited shelf life? Are we getting close to the endgame for that series?
Well, we know clearly the end was already written before the beginning began. [Laughs.] The writers, they have a very particular, very clear sense of the arc of their show.
In terms of how much longer that has to play out, do you know?
We’re certainly getting closer to it.
You’re not going to give me anything, are you?
No, I’m really not. [Laughs.]
There have also been reports the producers of Orphan Black are in early stages of putting together ideas for a possible new series set in the show’s universe. What can you tell me about where that stands?
Really early days. I truly don’t know. This is very early development, so we wouldn’t even normally have [confirmed] at this point, but we’re delighted at the response that it got to just a very brief announcement. There is such an engaged audience for Orphan Black. We’re excited to explore with Temple Street, the Canadian studio behind it, what a continuation of this world it might be. It really is at such a nascent stage, I don’t even know much more than that. But we certainly love the world, we certainly love the makers, so fingers crossed.
If the idea comes together, there’s a really good chance you’d want to make the show, yes?
If the creative is fantastic, it would have a very high chance of being made, given how passionate we know the audience is for this property, and how well this show and the properties around Orphan Black could fit across many of our brands.
What’s the one piece of development about which you’re most excited right now?
Because I couldn’t give you any answers for the previous questions, I’m going to give you three. One I already mentioned: Kevin Can Fuck Himself, which is the piece from Rashida Jones. I’m really excited about that. Another one is something called 61st Street, which is written by Peter Moffat, who wrote the original show that the HBO mini-series The Night Ofwas based on. We’re partnering with him, with Outlier Society, Michael B. Jordan’s production company, and Alana Mayo, who is [Jordan’s] head of development. It’s a very audacious, ambitious piece about race in America. It’s very, very good. Then another piece of development I’m excited about — that we put into development at BBC America — is called The Watch,which is based on something from a really well-known and popular author in Britain and internationally called Terry Pratchett. He passed away not so long ago. We’re pulling on one of his works in the Discworld trilogy. It’s sort of a procedural, but it’s also fantasy and it’s very ambitious around gender and sexuality. It has a lot of ambition to it that I think could be quite different and quite cool.
Back in February, you told the TV Critics Association press tour that you’re “motivated by the question, who gets to tell stories in entertainment?” and that rectifying biases can’t be just a passing fad. What are you doing behind the scenes to address these biases and institutionalize the importance of representation at AMC Networks?
For any change to happen you need conviction from the top, with everyone downstream ideally sharing that passion and understanding that it’s an imperative from leadership. I am encouraged by some new corporate moves in our industry that frankly wouldn’t have happened five or ten years ago. At AMC Networks, our entire staff, at all levels, have gone through unconscious bias training. You can be cynical about these things, but I see with my own eyes hearts and minds changing as we all start to reckon with how our baked-in biases impact our behavior and perpetuate power inequities. And the makeup of our workforce is important. We can only tell stories that reflect the truth of our diverse audiences if we have that diversity reflected in our gatekeepers. That can be young executives on the development side, as well as those of us who ultimately green-light projects.
As it relates to the actual nature of representation on our screens, every conversation here has this as subtext or text today. You can no longer have female characters, for instance, who function as feminine tropes in service of the complex, nuanced male subject. Aside from everything else, that is utterly uninteresting and lazy. We all have a ways to go, but we are committed to a two-pronged approach of “consciousness raising,” to use a classic feminist phrase, along with putting more women and people of color in decision-making seats both at our company and on our shows.
At TCA, you also talked about the need to green-light shows that aren’t obvious hits but represent bigger chances. You said, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts, not the allure of a shiny package.” Do you think TV has gotten too reliant on big projects put together by agencies? And what’s your take on what’s been happening with the ATA and WGA?
Great television starts with somebody having a story they have to tell. That may be a bit romantic-artist sounding, but it’s borne out over and over. Their idea may be huge in its entertainment ambition or it may be more intimate. Either way, great television emanates from an original point of view, and then a great team assembled to bring that to life. AMC Networks has had a lot of success in giving voice to new talent, and there’s something wonderful in seeing that. Attaching phenomenal talent — or starting with phenomenal talent — is also fantastic. You just can’t be cynical. If you assemble fabulous pieces in search of some glue, the chances are you’ll get it made, but it’s rarely as exciting as work that starts from a script or idea that’s pulsing with life and originality.”