Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I love the work of Frank Darabont, but I swear not every entry into this newly minted editorial column will be about him. It just so happens that his departure from AMC has given me ample opportunity to vent.
The first column was about how Darabont should be the showrunner of an HBO Dark Tower series, given his proven audience draw with the record numbers of viewers on The Walking Dead and HBO’s recent success with the uber violent, sexy and awesome Game of Thrones series.
I was prompted to write this column after my incensed reading of Kim Masters’ insightful dissection of what’s going on at AMC, specifically the harmful managing by one exec in particular, a man by the name of Joel Stillerman. Read Masters’ piece at The Hollywood Reporter, get righteously angry then come back and we’ll have a little discussion about it.
Back? Good. Let’s talk.
AMC is in desperate need of a serious regime change. This should happen. And happen fast.
Take the rather public disagreements between AMC’s top brass and the showrunners of their most popular shows (Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan and Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner), the completely defeatist penny-pinching attitude of the network (hey, we have something super popular because of its epic, cinematic scope! Let’s cut the budget for next season!) and the overall petulance of the higher ups as a whole and you have an incredibly clear cut case in my opinion. If AMC wants to save itself one of two things needs to happen: Either Stillerman and his cohorts have to come to Jesus and realize they’re killing their brand with their current actions or a massive house-cleaning has to happen, removing the current regime and bringing in people that won’t let ego and a lack of common sense destroy the potential of the network.
AMC as a brand is distinguished. Breaking Bad is the best show on television as far as I’m concerned. It’s risky, it’s unpredictable and, thank God, it’s different. Mad Men as well. I haven’t gotten through the first season yet and while it hasn’t quite taken me, I can for sure give it credit for taking chances. A period drama about dickheads in marketing? Not exactly the typical scripted TV formula these days.
The network takes risks, but doesn’t seem to understand how to keep pace with their successes. If it was just one disagreement, I could explain away the brass just not getting along with Darabont, who notoriously sticks to his guns and isn’t afraid at pissing people off to protect his storytelling. But considering AMC has three mammoth shows and there’s creative unrest between all three showrunners and the execs it’s pretty clear there’s a problem with the management.
You guys understand why this is bad news for us, the fans. You don’t need me to draw it out… suits interfering with the creative process isn’t a new thing in Hollywood. What AMC’s board and advertisers should be made aware of is how these actions negatively impact them directly. Fans want quality storytelling, risky storytelling… board members, shareholders and advertisers just want to look at the bottom line, see profits.
For them, I have this to say: Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead weren’t successes because of Stillman and his group, they were successes despite them. Do you really think the next Vince Gilligan or Frank Darabont or Matthew Weiner will be attracted to AMC knowing how they treat their talent? Do you think the next brilliant showrunner will choose AMC over, say, HBO with the next great, profitable series knowing that even if they bring in the best ratings in the network’s history their budgets will be slashed in their next season and they could be booted off the series they developed for years?
Guys, it’s not that hard to figure out. If you don’t invest in the future of your network you’re not going to have one. You need to make AMC the home of cutting edge TV, a haven for the men and women who really do the work, tell the stories audiences want to tune in to every week. If you don’t, then you’re going to lose the next wave of brilliant showrunners.
Breaking Bad is on the road to wrapping up (the fifth season is the last), Mad Men isn’t going to go on forever and from the sounds of things you’re hobbling The Walking Dead. So where do you go from here? From the sidelines it looks like AMC is a sinking ship being captained by a crazy person that refuses to acknowledge his feet are getting wet.
As a viewer, I don’t want that. I’m not kidding when I say Breaking Bad is some of my all time favorite TV period. I loved the promise of AMC, the upfront commitment to an epic ongoing zombie series, the risk-taking and creative freedom they seemed to give their showrunners. The audience was there for that kind of channel, their risk-taking was being rewarded and now it looks like they’re pissing it all away, ignoring what made them successful in the first place.
There’s one particular piece in Masters’ article that rang especially true for me: “But given its recent battles, several sources involved with its signature shows say AMC does not seem ready to handle its success. "It feels like they don't have the experience of being on top," one fumes. "They're total ball-busters, and that pisses people off."”
In my experience that’s 100% accurate. I’ve felt this firsthand. Let me tell you a story. Do you remember my Walking Dead set reports? If you don’t, I visited the Atlanta set and had one of the very first looks at the making of the show up online.
AMC graciously invited me to the set (and, it should be noted, paid for my flight and hotel) at the behest of Darabont. I know Frank liked my reports from the set of The Mist and I went out, had a great time, loved what I was seeing and wrote up my experiences into two articles.
I worked with AMC on timing the release of the articles, specifically with the very nice regional publicist Jill Dortheimer, pre-Comic-Con and was given exclusive images. We all agreed on the embargo lift day. I posted my first piece and it went over very great. Well, it went over great most places. Jill reached out to me saying that the piece was more in-depth than she expected and asked me to hold off on the second piece until the premiere of the first episode.
Well, I had already promised the second piece hitting the next day and told her that I’d be happy to do further coverage closer to the premiere, but since we agreed to have two pieces hitting that week and I had already promised the readers the next one was coming the next day that I couldn’t hold the second set report for months.
She seemed to be fine with it, even sending an email after the second report posted saying the it was great. Then AMC publicity stepped in and things went fucking crazy.
I got a royally pissed off phone call from the AMC publicist, screaming at me about breaking trust with the filmmakers, giving away big show spoilers and breaking my NDA (non-disclosure agreement, a contract that is most often required to be signed for any visiting press on movies sets).
Before this person called me, she emailed Harry telling him to take down my story, that I broke the NDA and that was legally actionable. She also called Harry, who just so happened to be in the hospital at that time. This was when he had that bad allergic reaction and almost died.
Offended is a term that barely describes my reaction. One, I was never given an NDA to sign, so that was a lie, and even if I had been given one I had written permission to run with my Walking Dead coverage! I tried to explain this, but all I got back was that Darabont was furious with me for my coverage and how shitty I was at my job, apparently.
It was a mess. If you know me, you know I’m a pretty even-tempered dude, but when I saw these emails, heard from Harry (from the hospital) about his talk with her and had this lady screaming at me about breaking trust with filmmakers I’ve known on a professional and personal level for half a decade I wasn’t so nice back. Those accusations were very serious and all were unfounded, easily disproven. Thankfully Harry had my back from the first email.
Long story short, I reached out to Darabont to see if she was telling the truth when she said I somehow pissed him off. He responded back saying quite the contrary that he loved the reports and was ecstatic about the reaction they were getting from the talkback community and the internet on the whole.
I don’t know what Darabont said to the AMC people, but the next day I got a mea culpa email from AMC and suddenly all was sunshine and rainbows and I was the greatest guy in the world who wrote some awesome reports!
All this inside baseball stuff I typically find is totally uninteresting to anybody outside of the day to day movie reporting business. You’ll never see me discussing this kind of stuff on the site, but I use it here to illustrate a point. This was how AMC acted with me. They were disorganized (the unit publicist and main AMC publicity were on a totally different page) and when they reacted it was cruelly. They were out for blood. They didn’t just want Harry to take my posts down, they were trying to get me fired. For what? For two glowingly enthusiastic set reports posted when they wanted it posted?
If that’s how they treated me, I can’t even imagine how they’d treat real emergencies. From the sounds of things in Masters’ article, that kind of attitude comes from the top of the company and it’s a damn shame because AMC has so much potential.
Glen Mazzara could be a great guy with The Walking Dead’s best interests at heart… Hell, he could do an amazing job running the show for all I know, but my point goes deeper than Darabont being booted off the show. I’m upset about Frank losing his baby, but frankly I’m more upset at what appears to be a massive trainwreck happening at AMC. I feel like Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park talking to John Hammond about not knowing what he’s got on his hands. It’s true. It feels like AMC lucked into greatness and is micro-managing it into the ground.
That’s not the dream of what AMC could be, what it should be, what its fans expect it to be.
I’m no Hollywood insider. I don’t know Stillerman from Adam, so maybe he’s a saint and is totally misunderstood. All I know is that some shit is going down at his network, their highest rated show (5.8m viewers for the premiere and 6m for its finale, which shows growth, no?) is in trouble and Masters’ article paints what feels like a very, very accurate picture of the network right now. I can compare her points to what I’ve experienced firsthand and I come away with the impression Ms. Masters nailed it.
I love AMC. I want it to be great. But if AMC wants to survive it sounds to me like there needs to be some serious housecleaning and reprioritizing at the top of the company. Without a drastic change in how they do business their future is going to be dim when it should be blindingly bright.
At least those are my thoughts. What do you folks think?
Many thanks to Sean Stanley for the Photoshop help and to Tom Iacuzio and Jared Eves for answering a call to arms.
I swear, my next This Should Happen column won’t feature Frank Darabont at all! But it will feature The Dark Tower again. Not sure when it’ll post, but it’s been gestating for a while. Keep an eye out!
Previous This Needs To Happen articles: