Last September, when AMC’s Mad Men won 6 Emmys, including one for best drama, and Breaking Bad pulled in two more, it marked the network’s first major Emmy wins.
“It was a wonderful exciting moment for all of us to be at the live awards in Los Angeles and get the awards and as excited as Charlie [Collier] was, he kept saying this isn’t the real award, the real presentation,” said Rainbow Media chief operating officer Ed Carroll.
For Collier, AMC’s president and general manager, the real award presentation took place the next day. “We took the red eye back to New York and on Monday morning Charlie gathered everyone [at AMC] together,” Carroll recalled. “He took out the Emmys and said this is the real presentation because everyone here played a part in it.”
The Emmy wins and Collier’s reaction go a long way towards explaining his selection as this year’s Vanguard Award for Youth Leadership.
“When Charlie joined the network three years ago, the definition of AMC was really about movies only,” Carroll said. “Charlie has successfully broadened the definition of the brand in a way that is really remarkable. I don’t think you can find too many examples of the launch of two original series that have both won major Emmys in the space of two years.”
For Collier, who had spent much of his career in television ad sales, the success of the two series also reflects a life-long love of television and an interest in getting more involved in the development of new programming.
Collier initially hoped to break into the TV industry as an entertainment lawyer. But before starting law school, Collier and a friend began a nationwide road trip to visit every major league baseball park in the country. “I’d already bought my first year law books and had started reading them but one night somewhere in Alabama, I remember putting down the law book and saying, 'There is no way I’m going to do this,’ ”Collier recalled.
Fortunately, his friend’s father, who was a media buyer, provided the inspiration for a new career path. “We were going to every major league ball park and his dad was getting us great tickets and all the national sales managers were coming and talking to us and giving us hot dogs,” Collier said. “I thought this was pretty good. It might be a way into the business.”
That fall instead of starting law school, Collier landed a job at TeleRep as a sales assistant, gaining valuable experience. But after a few years, he realized he wanted to be in a job where he was more closely involved with the product he was selling.
“The problem with being a rep is that you don’t actually touch the product,” he explained. “Throughout my career, I always wanted to get to a place where I could touch the product.”
In 1994, he moved to A&E in ad sales. “A&E was an established player with high-end upscale originals,” he said. “Then, being there with the launch of a new network History Channel in 1995 was an amazing experience. It was a chance to really learn the infrastructure from the ground up.”
From there, Collier moved to Oxygen Media in 1999, which gave him a first hand look at a start-up multimedia operation. In 2002, he joined Court TV — now truTV — as head of ad sales. During his four years there, Collier’s ad sales operation quadrupled its revenue. “It was a great turnaround story,” he said.
After the network was sold, Collier landed the top job at AMC in 2006. At the time, AMC was just starting to dramatically change its programming, which had traditionally focused exclusively on movies, to include original scripted fare. Shortly before he arrived, AMC had debuted its first scripted offering, the miniseries Broken Trail, which Collier said was the highest rated entertainment program on cable that year.
“My boss Ed Carroll and [Rainbow Media president and CEO] Josh Sapan really deserved the credit for the strategy of getting us into original programming and laying the groundwork for that success,” Collier said.
To build on the initial success, Collier and his management team wanted to turn AMC into a destination for the “best of original programming and make AMC known as a place for the best stories on television,” Collier said. “Night after night we already have some of the best stories ever made in the form of movies. [With the originals] we wanted to create an environment where the best creators in television can thrive. We felt there was a real opportunity to focus on great stories at a time when the industry was moving to less expensive game shows, reality and talk.”
A key part of the strategy was to pair the strengths of the network’s movies with its originals. During Broken Trail’s original run, AMC also programmed a number of top Westerns.
This March, during the launch of the second season of Breaking Bad, it is celebrating “March Badness,” a movie stunt consisting of films featuring anti-heroes.
Besides the programming changes, which have produced record ratings, Collier has also moved to beef up AMC’s online efforts. The network’s revamped and relaunched Web site, which has seen triple-digit growth, now includes a much wider array of information and videos, including original webisodes for Breaking Bad.
It has also put all 17 episodes of the classic British series The Prisoner online in an effort to promote AMC’s miniseries version set for next fall. “It is not a remake, but a complete reimagination of the original series,” Collier said. “It is an iconic story of freedom that is very relevant to the world today.”
Supporting high-profile scripted fare in such a tough economic climate is a risk, Collier admitted. “This is an expensive business and a lot of people have run from quality because of the challenges that come with it,” Collier said. “But focusing on delivering the best stories on television we think will pay dividends when we come out of this cycle.”