AMC Makes Franchise Play

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AMC, coming off its best quarter ever in an array of demographic measures, has set its sights higher with the launch of a trio of primetime movie franchises.

Looking to leverage a library encompassing some 4,000 films, the 90-million subscriber network wants to serve as a curator by increasingly putting films and franchises in context.

“As the largest distributor of films on cable, affiliates and advertisers should know that it's our goal to connect viewers to movies in three different ways,” said general manager Charlie Collier, the former Court TV ad-sales chief who joined the Rainbow Entertainment Services network last September. “AMC wants to present films and provide additional materials that celebrate icons that are enduringly cool. Our focus is also on films that are timelessly relevant and movies that are personal classics to different people for different reasons.”

With “Hollywood Icons,” AMC will celebrate Tinseltown's stars by putting their meaningful performances on center stage. James Dean and the April 10 network television premiere of a fully remastered edition of Rebel Without a Cause is the ticket for April. In upcoming months, AMC — whose lineup is 96% comprised of movies and movie-related fare, more than double that of its nearest ad-supported basic-cable competitor, TBS — plans to shine the spotlight on Bruce Lee, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe and Al Pacino.

Under the “AMC Celebrates” banner, the network will commemorate the anniversaries of significant films, supplemented by exclusive interviews with stars and directors and pop-culture commentary that will also be available at AMCTV.com. On tap in the months ahead: the 50th anniversary of An Affair to Remember, the 25th anniversary of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the 20th anniversary of The Untouchables.

The “AMC Complete Collection” will showcase the complete Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes and The Godfather franchises.

In recent months, AMC had already taken steps to toward this more structured approach. For instance, the network complemented last November's airings of Taxi Driver with interviews with Cybill Shepherd and Jodie Foster. In January, AMC produced a 3.1 household rating for its presentation of Jeremiah Johnson, flanked by a quartet of other Robert Redford films.

The March 17 to 18 “AMC Cowboys” stunt, during which westerns were coupled with profiles of “modern-day” mavericks who still practice the code of the range, was another case in point. AMC put eight notches of 1.0 household delivery or better on its Nielsen gun, topped by a 1.58 mark for Open Range on St. Patrick's Day at 8 p.m.

The cowboys and the Redford fare helped AMC — coming off a 2006 that was its best year in household delivery — post a 25% gain to a 1.0 primetime household ratings average during the first quarter, a period that also saw the service record its best-ever averages among adults 25 to 54 (520,000 of those viewers), adults 18 to 49 (440,000) and adults 18 to 34 (151,000). Moreover, the movie service registered a 31% gain to 320,000 men 25 to 54 viewers, picking up a cable-best 76,000 of those watchers in the quarter.

As it firms up its film franchises, AMC is also taking bigger steps in the original production game, emboldened by the success of Robert Duvall western miniseries Broken Trail, which became cable's second most-watched movie since 1995 and the network's ratings leader with a 7.7 household mark with total viewership of 9.7 million last June.

“Yes, Broken Trail is a tough act to follow. Our internal expectations were that it would get half that number,” said Rainbow Entertainment Services president Ed Carroll. “It was the right material for the right audience.”

Carroll said the film was also important because it opened more doors to the creative community for AMC, which currently has original series in various stages of development with such TV talent as Walter Hill (Broken Trail) Tom Fontana (Oz), Freddie DeMann (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), Kip Koenig (Grey's Anatomy) and David Semel (Heroes, House), among others. It is also working toward a miniseries for 2008 from the war, science-fiction, western or gangster genres. Among the projects under consideration is a chance to ride saddle again with Broken Trail co-star Thomas Haden Church with a Western titled Last Horsemen.

In the meantime, the fourth season of The Hustle, a co-production with the BBC, will debut April 18 at 10 p.m., while Matthew Weiner's (The Sopranos) Mad Men, is set to debut in July, when Collier said it will be supported by The Godfather films and an extremely rare TV appearance by Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Come January, AMC ventures into sci-fi series with a remake of the 1960s show The Prisoner.

Despite the development investment, Carroll said series will never constitute more than 10% of AMC's lineup. Besides, the shows look like movies, according to Collier.

Mad Men is shot on film and very stylized to that time, the early 1960s on Madison Avenue,” he said. “Shooting on the Breaking Bad pilot was completed [last week]. It looks beautiful. We want to keep that cinema vérité feel with all of our series.”

Carroll said a decision whether to go to series on Breaking Bad, about the lengths a desperate man will go to in order to ensure his family's survival, and another pilot will be made by late summer or early fall. By that time, the network will also have unveiled a full rebranding initiative.

“In making the decision to come to AMC, I knew the network had great momentum and plenty of upside,” Collier said. “There's a lot going on and it's exciting to know that the best is still ahead for the network.”

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