Three years after it entered the unscripted arena, AMC is pulling out to focus on its core scripted business. Of the network’s unscripted portfolio, only The Walking Dead hit aftershow Talking Dead and Kevin Smith’s Comic Book Men will continue. Any other production or development of unscripted shows is being discontinued. That includes recently renewed Game Of Arms, which will shut down production on its second season effective immediately. Producers will have the option of finding another home for their unscripted projects, with AMC’s full cooperation.
AMC has about 10 employees in New York and Los Angeles who focus on unscripted programming. Some of them will continue to service AMC’s two remaining series, though some likely will leave as part of the programming shift.
“Scripted originals are at the core of the AMC brand,” the network said in a statement to Deadline. “Iconic shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead have driven AMC’s evolution into a must-have television network. We are proud of our efforts in unscripted programming and the unique worlds we have been able to introduce, but in an environment of exploding content options for viewers, we have decided to make scripted programming our priority.”
AMC kicked off its foray into unscripted in 2011 with the docu-series Inside The DHS and The Pitch. A year and a half later, AMC launched an all-unscripted Thursday night with Comic Book Men as the anchor but retreated from the night a year later, in 2013. Originally, the idea was to use reality programming as a replacement for movies in primetime. But with the glut of unscripted programming on cable, audiences for it started to decline across the board as it became harder and harder to find a breakout hit, and many of those who did break out have had a short lifespan. Plus, reality series do not have the repeatability of scripted shows, and multiple play is key for cable networks. Meanwhile, AMC’s movies have performed reasonably well, with the network’s year-to-date adults 18-49 primetime movie audience actually up and younger than 2013.
More important, as the cable universe becomes more fragmented, networks have been looking to narrow their brands to distinguish themselves from the competition. In a similar move, USA Network is pulling away from half-hour comedies to focus on its core drama programming that viewers associate with its brand. A&E recently started scaling back on scripted series to refocus on its signature unscripted fare.
What AMC is best known for is drama programming. It established itself as an original programming player with compelling series such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. It has struggled to launch a new drama hit during the past couple of years, but with no distractions trying to maintain both a scripted and unscripted portfolios, the network’s executives now can focus again on the AMC bread and butter and work on finding that next big drama franchise. In the meanwhile, AMC has offshoots of two of its biggest scripted series in the works: the upcoming Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul and the Walking Dead companion, which has received a pilot order.
Walking Dead’s companion talk show, Talking Dead, has been a monster hit fitting for the series that spawned it — its Season 4 averaged 5.6 million total viewers, 3.7 million adults 18-49 per episode in Live+3. Comic Book Men also has done well in its low-trafficked Sunday midnight slot, averaging 1.35 million total viewers, 969k adults 18-49 per episode in Season 3.