Is AMC About To Dump Breaking Bad?
Breaking Bad and AMC could shockingly soon be parting ways if news broken on Monday by the Los Angeles Times comes to fruition. According to the LA Times’ Company Town blog, talks between AMC and Sony Television (producer of the series) regarding a fifth season have taken on a tense atmosphere in the wake of AMC’s suggestion that the fifth (and if AMC has their way FINAL) season of Breaking Bad should only be six to eight episodes long instead of the standard 13 episodes in an attempt to cut costs, a likely consequence of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s recent multimillion dollar deal to remain at the helm of the highly decorated series for two more seasons. According to the Times, Breaking Bad is not the only show on the network feeling the budgetary crunch as a result of Weiner’s deal. Producers for The Walking Dead, AMC’s highest rated series, were reportedly told that they needed to slash their per episode budget by $250,000 and that demand allegedly partially lead to the departure of series co-creator Frank Darabont. Sony Television’s response to AMC’s strong-arming tactics has been to shop Breaking Bad to other networks in search of a better fit and more respect.
Is it obvious to anyone else how incredibly short-sighted AMC is being here? Breaking Bad, the second highest rated show on the network, a show that’s already entered into the discussion for Best TV Series Of All Time by many pundits, should “wrap things up” next year with a season that’s half as long as normal? Why? What could possibly justify this type of treatment of a network mainstay? Their biggest hit, The Walking Dead, should be forced to take a budgetary hit after drawing a record six million viewers to the network last fall? All so the network can cater to the Weiner’s demands, a man whose show while justly critically lauded, has never drawn as many viewers as either The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad? What kind of a business is AMC running?
Admittedly, I’m not someone who puts much stock in ratings. The Nielsen ratings system is outdated and does not account for the various methods in which people consume television (online, DVRs, iTunes downloads) in the 21st century. Ratings don’t necessarily equal quality. I get that. I’m also not trying to denigrate Mad Men, which I find to be one of the most richly plotted shows on television, one that is deserving of nearly every measure of praise it receives. But, if a deal that’s done to keep Mad Men on the air is not commensurate with its standing with the network (i.e.: forking over a more money to Matthew Weiner than he makes for the network), and that at the same time comes at the expense of a show like Breaking Bad (which is arguably more popular and more critically praised) or at the expense of a hit like The Walking Dead whose success draws viewers to the AMC and therefore raises visibility and creates dollars for shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad to exist, it makes you wonder exactly what AMC network head Charlie Collier is doing.
AMC has developed the reputation in recent years as basic cable’s answer to HBO. Their shows, largely, are of a certain quality that’s unmatched by other cable outlets. Mad Men has won 13 Emmys over its four seasons. Breaking Bad has collected six Emmys of its own over its three seasons, including an Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama win for Bryan Cranston for every single season the show’s been on the air. Both draw the type of affluent viewers that networks prefer and both are critical darlings. The Walking Dead drew record numbers for the network, attracting over five million viewers for its premiere in October 2010 and then topping that with over six million viewers for its finale that same year. However, AMC has been in a bit of a slump of late as last summer’s highly promoted Rubicon failed after a single season and this winter’s hugely hyped The Killing succeeded only in pissing off much of its viewership with one of the single most infuriating season finales in television history, one that caused the network to go into super spin mode for much of the summer (after inexplicably renewing The Killing for a second season). And, in the midst of this slump their answer, seemingly, is to mistreat two stalwarts and successful performers for the network?
I realize that as shows become older they become more expensive for networks. It’s how business is done. Producers and actors on successful shows want more money to keep doing what they do when their shows become hits. It makes sense. But, if AMC’s goal is to save money, one has to wonder how smart caving in to Weiner to save Mad Men was. You also wonder whether bringing a show like The Killing, which has been savaged by critics and fans alike for not delivering on the premise of its first season, back for a full second year is an intelligent move. Instead of forcing Breaking Bad (a much, much, much, much more successful show) into a shortened season, why not give The Killing six episodes to wrap up their storyline? The network would still save money by producing less episodes of The Killing. Why punish Breaking Bad for being successful while rewarding The Killing for failing?
There’s no question that AMC is at a crossroads. The pristine reputation that they have worked for years to build has taken a sizable hit over the past few months, and it could be difficult for them to recover if they continue going down this path. An AMC that tries to strong-arm Breaking Bad into a truncated season to cut costs while gleefully throwing money away to people like Matthew Weiner and while allowing an abject failure like The Killing to return for a full season isn’t a network that I’m interested in watching. And I highly doubt that I’m the only one.