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With the recent airing of The Killing's season finale, as well as Breaking Bad's fourth season premiering in a few days, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look back at where the network has been. With their drama series, AMC has found both critical acclaim and ratings success – if never exactly in the same show. But the network existed for years before the likes of Mad Men and The Walking Dead came about. So in the first half of this two part article I'll be examining the life of AMC leading up to the network's greatest triumphs, and the two shows that began their meteoric rise after a long history filled with successes and failures.
Started in 1984, and originally known as American Movie Classics, for its first years the network dutifully aired films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Pleasing the older crowd and young film buffs alike with its unofficial motto, “No color. No commercials.” The network worked with film societies to help preserve, as well as broadcast, the blockbuster films and lesser known gems of the past. Going so far as to hold an annual Film Preservation Festival, AMC cemented itself as a sophisticated movie channel that went above and beyond in their love of film.
In 1996 the network released its first original series. (Yes, believe it or not Mad Men wasn't their first show.) Remember WENN, was a dramedy following the lives of the employees at a Pittsburgh radio station in the 1930s. Though the series was canceled prematurely during a regime change at the network, it was regarded highly by critics throughout its four season run. It was replaced with another '30s period piece, this time choosing a film production studio for the setting. The Lot never earned much attention from critics or viewers, however, and was pulled after its second season. AMC saw changes – of varying success – over its first eighteen years, but it maintained the sense of dignity it had built by staying true to its theme of focusing on America's historic past.
That all changed,
however, when in 2002, network executives were forced to scrap the
classic motion picture format and begin airing more modern movies
chosen to draw in both a larger and younger crowd. The need for
advertising revenue brought about the changes, as advertisers
demanded movies that would resonate with their target audience.
After shedding its full name – as well as any sense of individuality –
the network struggled to establish an identity as more than just a
home to commercial laden movies that were edited to a pulp before
broadcast. At a time when nearly every cable channel had a specific
audience it was catering to, AMC was faceless; it was just another random
movie warehouse. For five years that would be their fate, until
deciding to take a chance on another original series. A decision
that would not only establish a new identity for AMC, but win them
even more acclaim than the hit films of Hollywood ever had.
In Part 2, AMC original programming hits a speed bump. The network also gets its first taste of commercial success, with a series that goes on to set records most thought AMC would never achieve.