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A Study of AMC: Part 2 of 2

In the conclusion of this article I'll be examining the lows AMC has experienced with their new batch of original programming, as well as a look at their greatest commercial achievement. We'll also take a peek at what's to come for the network in their newest series, and where it might fall on the scale of AMC's existing programs.

AMC was riding high on the success of Mad Men and Breaking Bad coming into the summer of 2010. This is when they launched their third original program since retooling the network. Rubicon was meant to take another cast of relatively obscure but talented actors and insert them into a compelling storyline with deep and often troubled characters (basically following exactly in Breaking Bad and Mad Men's footsteps). Some things just don't work out the way we hope, though, and such was the case with Rubicon. The cast was solid for the most part, but no one stood out or provided the audience with a particularly memorable performance. The plot also fell short in enthralling viewers, despite its conspiracy-driven story.

Receiving mixed reviews and drawing in less of an audience than either of AMC's other two current series, Rubicon proved to be the first chink in the newly crafted armor of AMC's original programming. Many thought it saw improvement in later episodes, but the lack of viewers and favorable buzz led AMC to cancel it after one season. As of now, Rubicon is the only scripted series from AMC not to reach a second season (including their two shows from the late 90's). More than for its individual failure, Rubicon showed that AMC wasn't infallible and could make a bad show just like anyone else.

From its pilot episode, The Walking Dead looked to be a step back in the right direction for AMC. It premiered in October of 2010 during one of the only aspects of AMC programming to carry over from their classic film days, the network's annual Fearfest (though it was originally dubbed Monsterfest). The pilot, entitled “Days Gone Bye,” brought in a staggering 5.4 million viewers for its Halloween premiere. The first episode also garnered critical acclaim for the raw and emotional acting, as well as an unexpectedly deep storyline. Most critics' love declined as the series went on, but the ratings only fell briefly before rising to their highest numbers with the final two episodes. While critics cited problems with unconvincing acting, clunky dialogue, and a weak storyline to close out the six-episode run, the first season would actually become the most-watched basic cable series ever. (Though Falling Skies recently beat out its premiere episode's record.)

Recently The Walking Dead received three Emmy nominations for the categories of Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup, Outstanding Visual Effects and Outstanding Sound Editing. Frank Darabont's adaption of this comic series has also been bringing in noms from the WGAs, The Saturn Awards and The 1st annual Critics' Choice Television Awards. Whether you loved it or would love to see it improve, a full 13-episode order for its second season is something to be excited about. Though it never earned the immense critical praise of Mad Men or Breaking Bad, the series has brought unprecedented commercial success for AMC.

The network appeared to be back on track after the hiccup of Rubicon, but unfortunately their worst series was still to come. Premiering in April of this year, The Killing was an adaption of the popular Danish series, Forbrydelsen. Though the first few episodes were well-received by the critics, after a short time the series began losing its charm. With little character development and zero plot development beyond the constant misleads, many people were wondering why they should be watching at all. The best episode came late in the series, but it served more as an indicator of what the show had been doing wrong for most of its run. The ratings also fell through the first season, though remained high enough for AMC to renew it. The few who had stayed loyal to the series even had trouble themselves swallowing the horrendous finale, which became synonymous with bad-TV-only-hours after it aired.

With AMC keeping Veena Sud and her writing team on, there is also little chance The Killing will see improvement in its sophomore year. The network's decision to renew the series and keep Sud in charge came before the season finale aired, so there is some small hope that AMC will take a firmer hand, which would be wise considering the sheer negativity it drew from critics already exhausted with the series, as well as outraged fans expecting a payoff for their commitment.

With highs and lows aplenty behind them, it begs the question of how AMC's newest series, Hell on Wheels, will rate against the network's previous programs. Judging from the trailer, the series is clearly well-made. With an entrancing cinematic look, and meticulously crafted sets and wardrobes, this new period piece is already showing similarities to the series that relaunched AMC's original programming. The well delivered snippets of dialogue also can't help but call up thoughts of Mad Men. Although the series couldn't be more different when it comes to story and setting, it will be the third series from AMC to examine an eventful period in our country's history. In this case, the year 1865 during construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, and the appropriately gritty atmosphere that comes with it. The cast, like all of AMC's series, isn't much to speak of starting out. Colm Meaney (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and Anson Mount (Conviction, though he may be more recognizable for a one episode appearance in Lost) lead the cast, along with hip-hop artist turned actor, Common. We will have to wait until this fall, when the series premieres, to see whether Hell on Wheels will be another critical darling, a ratings powerhouse, or follow in the short steps of Rubicon. Best not to think about it ending up like The Killing.

 For close to 27 years AMC has been broadcasting some form of entertainment. While the content has altered right along with their public perception, the network struggled through the good and bad changes to get to where it is today. Now home to some of the most acclaimed series currently on television – but not without their share of duds either – AMC can still hold their head high for providing its audience with both thought provoking and exciting programming.


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