Following 'Trail’s’ Lead

8/18/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

The summer of 2006 has been one to remember for AMC.

The Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.-owned network blazed new ratings trails in June with its first-ever original movie, the Robert Duvall Western miniseries Broken Trail. That event led the channel to its highest-rated month ever with a 1.2 household average, according to Nielsen Media Research. AMC followed up with a 1.13 mark in July, its second-best average.

Now, the movie service has its sights set on summer 2007.

Last week, AMC gave the green light for production on its first original drama series, Mad Men, the stories of the personal and professional lives of New York advertising executives circa 1960. AMC has ordered 13 one-hour installments and plans to premiere the series weekly, starting next June.

Produced by Lionsgate, Mad Men was created and will be penned and executive-produced by Matthew Weiner, who has been a writer or cowriter for eight episodes of The Sopranos, including last season’s “Luxury Lounge.” Weiner, who received an Emmy nomination for 2004’s installment of the Home Box Office mob series titled “Unidentified Black Males,” also has writing credits for Becker, The Naked Truth and Andy Richter Controls the Universe.

Rainbow Entertainment Services president Ed Carroll has high expectations for the series, emphasizing that it is not a period piece.

“The ad business has changed quite a bit over the years, but the office politics and the tensions between the sexes that will be part of Mad Men are still quite relevant today,” he said. “This is not being done for nostalgia. It will be compelling for today’s TV audience.”

Carroll said the “character development, open-ended sub plots and continuing story lines” may not make Mad Men a logical candidate for syndication, but it will “appeal to AMC’s discerning audience of adults 25 to 54.”

While exteriors will showcase the New York of 40 years ago, with jazz venues and Harlem clubs, the decision has not yet been made whether interiors will film in the Big Apple or Los Angeles. “This will be shot in high-definition in the U.S.,” Carroll said. “We’re not going to turn Toronto into New York.”

Speaking of domestic shooting, Carroll said that as part of a co-production deal with the British Broadcasting Corp., AMC this fall plans to film a couple of episodes of London-based con artist series The Hustle in Las Vegas and Los Angeles as part of a third season of the show.

The new season of The Hustle, featuring Robert Vaughn (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) is scheduled to premiere on AMC next April.

Overall, AMC will continue to be “90% film. On any given night, viewers are going to find High Noon or Rocky,” he said.

However, with the success of Broken Trail and the upbeat feeling around Mad Men, the network wants to engage in more original productions.

“You’ll probably see another big event like Broken Trail within the next 12 to 18 months; we’ve been deluged with scripts since the end of June,” said Carroll, who adds that AMC would like to add a second original series as well down the road. “That feels about right.”