AMC's Brand-Smart Strategy

Charlie Collier, VP and general manager of AMC, wasn't really nervous at the 60th Annual Emmy Awards until the show started and he realized his categories were coming up.

In the end, it worked out pretty well. Matthew Weiner won for writing Mad Men, Bryan Cranston won for his role in Breaking Bad, and AMC made history when Mad Men became the first basic cable series to win as outstanding drama. When that happened, Collier looked down the row of seats at the rest of his team—and that, he says, is when it hit him.

"We all just looked at each other and said, 'Oh, my goodness,'" Collier recalled. "To have third-party validation, we were so thrilled. It was a pretty incredible feeling to have Mad Men called."

Now Collier and AMC have to try to live up to some lofty standards. The AMC original-programming plan, put in place before Collier joined the network in 2006, has resulted in an impressive streak. Broken Trail, the Western miniseries starring Robert Duvall, was presented that year. Then came the 1960s ad-agency drama Mad Men, followed by the science-teacher-turned-meth-dealer drama Breaking Bad. Three swings at bat—and all three have won Emmys.

So what's next? After the return of Breaking Bad in June, AMC will present a miniseries version of the 1968 Patrick McGoohan cult classic, The Prisoner. "We entered this with two perspectives," Collier said. "One, with great affection for the original. But two, knowing we're not remaking the original, we're actually re-imagining it and interpreting it…into a miniseries that I think will be one of the biggest television events of next year."

The vast array of themes in these AMC originals—Western, sci-fi, period piece and modern-day drama—is entirely intentional. "If we just did Mad Men, we'd be a period-piece network," Collier said. "Well, we're not. The mission is to make sure we build a breadth of originals that really complement what we do best—present a diverse array of the best movies of all time.

"We know very well what we want. We want our brand, when we do originals, to be as high-end and high-quality as the films we're airing. You can't air The Godfather and then go into Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? It won't work."

Collier, a minority owner in a minor-league baseball team, says that the big Emmy night should help as he looks for his next big swing. "We are hearing more and more from the highest end of talent on both sides of the screen, offering us first look, with their passion projects," he says. "And that is an amazing transition from a network that, a few years ago, was not playing at all." He hopes the big night for basic cable in general leaves ripples in the Emmy water.

After the show, Weiner had complained that no Mad Men cast members were asked to present awards or otherwise participate in the Emmy telecast. Collier thinks that is about to change. "What I think all of these cable wins do," Collier said, "is serve to open up people's eyes that we're being recognized at a higher level. I would think, in the future, they'll look to us not just as newcomers to the party, but hopefully as presenters, and as a huge piece of the plan."