Samuel Brace on the decline of AMC…
I am old enough to remember when AMC, back in the day — that day being five minutes ago — were at the top of the TV ladder. There was a time when they unequivocally ruled the roost, when all competition bowed before them. After Mad Men‘s debut in 2007, a golden streak of AMC television was bestowed upon us, resulting in an equally wonderful golden age of television. Mad Men became a sensation, the best show on TV, and then Breaking Bad followed a year later to surpass it, the Vince Gilligan powerhouse becoming THE greatest show of all time, a picture of how TV should be made, of how TV has to be made. Then, two years after Bad‘s premiere, we were given The Walking Dead — it was a good show back then — a quality drama that pulled in huge numbers for the zombie survival series. It was all looking so rosy, they had the game by the balls, they were their own competition, but then it all went away, and now we are here.
Can you imagine being an AMC exec at that moment in time? A moment where the TV world was at your feet? They were crapping out iconic characters every time they dropped their pants: Don Draper, Walter White, Jesse Pinkman, Rick Grimes, to name a few, these were becoming house hold names. Everything was going right for them, once people realised Breaking Bad existed, the numbers for this little show shot through the roof, the curtain had been pulled back, the world was on to what was going on here, history was being made in New Mexico. These were not just popular shows they were producing, but critical hits, this was premium TV and it was beautiful. But nothing lasts forever, and when Breaking Bad decided enough was enough, that all the winning going on was a little much, they did the unthinkable and actually ended the series; you know… when the story dictated and not when people stopped watching. It was a revelation but also the beginning of the end. Mad Men didn’t take their lead, they went on and on, the quality at this point had already dipped, they went out not on a sour note, but not on the excellence that could have been theirs.
The Walking Dead on the other hand… well that’s still going, the quality they achieved in their first few seasons seems like a distant memory, like it never really happened, they couldn’t say no to the numbers and through all the changes behind the scenes, things went off the rails, and now we are left with this — this being a total mess, a shadow of its former self. The gimmick of the series, being that it wasn’t about answers or the zombie virus, but just about surviving, is now super old and run into the ground. They are at the end of the 100m sprint and there is no where left to go. The show has become complacent and afraid, they were castrated long ago, lacking the testicular fortitude to kill off their most popular faces, instead going for the approach of a litany of character death fake outs while introducing characters that no one cares about. TWD is on a loop, the storylines repeating themselves over and over, the only difference from season to season being the length of Rick’s beard. The show is still going, but the show is over. It almost seems that once its’ two AMC brothers departed, all the creative zest it had drifted off with the wind.
Lots of people are still tuning to the TWD, Stockholm syndrome in full effect, thrown in with a little of the disease that affected Lost fans back in the day, though the magic is truly gone. But what have AMC done to stop the rot? Where is the new blood, the next generation of great TV? Well, it’s not looking so good. They have, thank the heavens, managed to get Vince Gilligan to return with his and Peter Gould’s wonderful Breaking Bad spin off, Better Call Saul, a lone star lighting up AMC’s suffocating darkness. This is no doubt a quality show, but it is fighting the fight all by itself, and in the process proving AMC’s problem, that without Vince Gilligan they would be in the toilet. With the success of Saul — the words ‘greatest spin off ever’ being heard on many a person’s lips’ — AMC have tried to replicate such success, going for a spin off to their zombie ratings killer with Fear the Walking Dead.
Unfortunately, FTWD is the most mediocre show in the history of TV. It’s so mediocre that it’s actually bad, and in a time of so much choice when it comes to TV, time cannot be made for mediocre, it may as well be trash. And mediocre is absolutely the word over at AMC. With shows like Halt and Catch Fire and the incredibly disappointing Preacher smothering themselves with run of the mill drama juice, the network is in trouble. Without Gilligan they just can’t seem to get it right. If they crank out enough new series maybe they will strike gold at some point, but it’s not looking good in 2016. And not everyone can be Gilligan, not every show can be Breaking Bad or Saul, excellence isn’t normal, but gosh, they can do better than this. It’s all very frustrating, they spoiled us over the last number of years, they actually took HBO on and won, but it’s all but gone now.
The name AMC was becoming synonymous with great TV and now it’s just synonymous with TV that looks great but is empty inside. Netflix has taken their place as the arch rival to HBO, the online streamer is pumping out some terrific TV, valiantly trying to fill the hole that has been left. It’s exasperating however, because if Netflix can do it, why can’t they? Whoever is in charge of drama over there needs a talking to, because when you look at what is being green-lit at other places… well, it’s night and day — someone isn’t doing their job right. What has happened at AMC isn’t complicated, it’s not nebulous, it’s just bad TV. And don’t be mistaken, mediocre is the new bad. These shows are better than the 23 episode per season series that are still trapped in 2005, but they aren’t good either, and if you are less than wonderful in 2016, you may as well not even bother. We have all the choice in the world today, fine just doesn’t cut it anymore, I need excellence, and I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t have the time or the patience for anything else.