AMC, the home of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, & the mega-hit The Walking Dead, has announced that they are getting out of the unscripted reality TV business, for the most part.
They are effectively canning all but two of their reality shows, keeping only The Talking Dead, the Walking Dead's after-show with Chris Hardwick, and Kevin Smith's Comic Book Men. AMC has also announced that they will be focusing on what they seem to do best scripted television.
Well kudos to AMC.
A quick flip around the cable TV universe shows that too many channels are addicted to the crack cocaine of reality programming. They're usually so cheap to make they don't need big audiences to be profitable, and they can be rerun until the tapes wear out. The problem is that there are now so many reality shows, and so many of them are unwatchable crap (I'm talking about you TLC) it's next to impossible to use them to attract viewers the way a flagship mega-hit drama like The Walking Dead can.
Face it, audiences want stories about people they can care about. These characters can be good, bad, or indifferent, but they have to be interesting. The raging short-fused narcissists cast in reality show because executives believe they add "drama" are not interesting. They are predictable and boring.
The only downside I see to this plan is that they will keep with their plans to adapt the comic book Preacher into a TV series. As I said before, it's a recipe for disaster since they can either alienate the book's fans by sanitizing it's anti-Christian elements, or alienating the majority of American TV audience by remaining faithful to the source material. That show runs the risk of not only alienating viewers from the show, but from the network as a whole. Right now the audience trusts AMC, and Preacher can shatter that trust.
Anyway, let's look at some scripted things AMC can use to fill its schedule.
1. AMC ORIGINAL MOVIES: Original TV movies were a mainstay of the 1970s to 1980s. They fell out of fashion pretty much everywhere but Lifetime and SyFy, and they are not normally known for their stunning quality.
AMC can change that. Making small scale TV movies with an emphasis on interesting stories and quality of storytelling. Start off with a new movie each month, with each month being based on a theme or genre.
May: Biopic/Historical Drama
June: Science Fiction.
November: Noir Crime.
December: Something Christmassy.
Those are just spit-balling ideas, but you get the gist. This gives AMC the opportunity to form relationships with up and coming filmmakers, develop a reliable company of repertory players, and if these movies win viewers go from one movie a month, to two, and then whatever the market will bear.
2. "NOVELS FOR TELEVISION": A lot of books just can't be adapted into 2-3 hour feature films. So why not adapt them into one hour weekly chapters for broadcast on AMC.
3. SKETCH COMEDY: Comedy sketches on YouTube get lots of views, but TV, where the genre was born, doesn't really do it very well. A good idea would be to put aside a half-hour, semi-late time-slot, and rotate different sketch comedy groups performing their material.
4. COMEDY PANEL SHOWS: This is a format that's very popular in the UK and Europe, but is mostly ignored here. Basically you have a host, a rotating lineup of funny guests, and you have a premise that acts as an excuse for them to be funny and clever. Easily fill at least one weekly half-hour slot at a very reasonable price.
5. TALK SHOW: AMC already has some success with the Talking Dead, so why not have a weekly show that isn't built around a specific show, but handles pop culture in general. Not an expensive proposition, and might actually catch on with the general audience.
Another suggestion would be to look for partners beyond the major studios. All the majors are interested in are selling old movies and TV shows as series remakes, and AMC has shown that's its originality and daring that wins viewers.