US cable network AMC came out of nowhere a few years ago to become one of the hottest homes for original drama. The basic cable broadcaster has had buzzy titles including Mad Men and Breaking Bad as well as genuine ratings smashes like zombie drama The Walking Dead.
The challenge now is to maintain this momentum.
To help this process, network bosses decamp to a five star Los Angeles hotel once a year to host a “bake-off”; an opportunity for producers to showcase interesting and exciting scripts to the channel.
“It’s a process that has taken on a life of its own,” Joel Stillerman, senior VP, original programming, production and digital content, AMC, told TBI. “The first goal is to inspire people to bring us ideas before other places and get in deeper in to writers’ heads.”
This year, AMC received six pitches varying from dark crime dramas to a period spy thriller and a remake of Vikram Chandra’s Indian crime novel Sacred Games.
The remake of Chandra’s novel, helmed by Kerry Williamson, seems to be the most ambitious script showcased. The novel, which was published in 2006, is a gangster crime thriller set in modern day Mumbai but with period flashbacks and historical themes. While it would fit in with the network’s strategy of launching “creatively driven shows that are harder to define”, it would be a tough sell to US audiences.
Another difficult to define idea is Turn, a series based on the concept of a spy ring that surrounded President George Washington. The Culper Ring was organised by Washington and Major Benjamin Tallmadge in 1778 to monitor the activities of the British in New York. Turn, created by Terra Nova and Nikita exec producer Craig Silverstein, is an intriguing concept and there have been some notable period successes on US TV of late (AMC’s own Hell on Wheels, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, British drama Downton Abbey), but the bubble is likely to have burst before Turn is given a chance.
A number of the pitches, meanwhile, sound closer in tone to The Killing, the network’s remake of the Scandi crime drama. Low Winter Sun, for instance, is an adaptation of a Gothic murder mystery series, reversioned by Criminal Minds writer Chris Mundy (who also served on Cold Case, the show that The Killing exec producer Veena Sud previously worked on), while legal drama Philly Lawyer, created by Richard LaGravenese, director of Hillary Swank-fronted rom-com PS, I Love You, sounds traditionally network-y (and not far away from Entertainment One-produced legal flop The Firm).
Which way will AMC turn? Will the channel, helmed by Brit Charlie Collier, rival networks such as HBO and Showtime for edgy fare, or will it start drifting towards the middle, battling basis cable channels for ideas that didn’t make it at the broadcast nets?
A worrying number of these pitches came from writers and exec producers of traditional series; Mundy’s past on procedural Criminal Minds, Silverstein’s work on series such as Bones, while Jake Paltrow (brother of Gwyneth), creator of journalist cloning drama Crystal Pines, worked on NYPD Blue for many years and Jason Cahill, the man behind F/V Mean Tide, a drama about a Maine lobster fishing family, exec produed Fox perennial bubbler Fringe.
AMC executives including Collier and Stillerman will spend the next few weeks deciding whether any of these series make it to pilot (joining recently commissioned heist drama Thief of Thieves from The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman). “It’s not a formal process. In the first year, we had The Killing, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels come out of it but [last] year there wasn’t as much,” added Stillerman.
He’ll hope that this year is more prosperous…