AMC, Money, and Ownership

I linked to this in my earlier Breaking Bad post, but here’s yesterday’s Los Angeles Times story about the hardball negotiations between AMC and Sony, which produces Breaking Bad. A deal will likely be worked out, but AMC apparently wanted to cut the episode order for the fifth season, and Sony threatened to take it to another network. This is a follow-up to the negotiations between AMC and Lionsgate over Mad Men, and co-incides with the network’s demand that the budget be cut for the second season of The Walking Dead. That last one wasn’t known when Frank Darabont stepped down as showrunner; now that it is known, it likely has more to do with his decision than his lack of showrunning experience.

Do we know why AMC is trying to save money everywhere it can? Well, maybe that’s not the way to put it; every network wants to save money, especially in tough times for TV. But they’re doing it so ham-handedly, making low-ball offers that the studio can then leak to the press, that it could damage their reputation (if The Killing hasn’t already done enough of that). This seems like the essence of penny wise, pound foolish – the amount of money they’ll save in the final deal may not outweigh the bad publicity and the downgrading of the brand, particularly since creating a brand is the whole point of doing original shows.

It would be easier to know what’s going on if we knew whether AMC has any shows that it makes money from. The movie reruns, aimed at an older male audience – like an upcoming Mob movie week hosted by Rudy Giuliani – may make good advertiser money, but then again they may not. The network doesn’t have reality shows, though they’re trying to develop them, and it doesn’t have the rights to big recent movies or hugely popular syndicated reruns. The original shows are supposed to act as loss leaders for the profitable stuff; whether that strategy is working out, only AMC knows for sure, but if it isn’t, it sure would go a ways to explaining why they’re acting so panicky.

Also, AMC doesn’t own most of its key shows, except The Walking Dead. (This may help explain why negotiations over The Walking Dead‘s budget haven’t been as loud or as public. There are some leaks, but not like Sony or Lionsgate. These studios go public with the whole thing to improve their negotiating positions.) This is one of the things that makes it hard for them to follow the HBO model, apart from the fact that they are not on premium cable. Starting with Oz and Sopranos, HBO adopted a policy that it would not have original programming that it didn’t own; no more Larry Sanders (Sony) or Dream On (Universal). That policy meant the network could make money off the show in every possible way, and all that exploitation could add up to profits. But AMC will likely not make a profit off Mad Men or Breaking Bad; the home video, overseas sales and other money-making possibilities are the studio’s. That doesn’t explain everything, since they’re acting the same way with their own property The Walking Dead.

Well, what I’d really like to know about AMC is why they still have made no move to re-release the third best original program in the network’s history, Remember WENN. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are better AMC shows; not the others.