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AMC's Collier Looks Beyond Network's Monster Hit

If one needed any proof that the fall season is no longer only about broadcast, on Oct. 14 the third-season premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead drew nearly 11 million viewers, breaking audience records for a cable drama series and delivering more adults 18-49 than broadcast behemoths such as The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and The Voice. At CTAM in Orlando, Fla., last week, AMC president and general manager Charlie Collier spoke with B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito about how the genre show became a broad hit, where AMC is looking for the next big drama and the progression of the network's unscripted strategy. An edited transcript follows.

What was your first reaction to the season-three premiere's record-breaking ratings?

It's superb. We look to do something different with every show, super-serve an audience. And this was built to super-serve the fan of the genre but also be a family drama set in the zombie apocalypse. So it has brought appeal beyond the genre. But the fact that it is a lot of people's favorite show, not just the genre fan, really means a lot to us. Because especially this year, the story opens up a world that is really universal. It's much more than a zombie show.

The premiere ratings were up 50% over season two. What do you see as driving that growth?

It starts with the live airing, it goes to VOD, it goes to the DVD window and then eventually the catch-up. So there is a big opportunity for people to catch up and come back for the event. So the whole ecosystem is working. But I think also we marketed it well. It's a unique show, there is very little like it on television right now. We really try to create a movie every week, and I think people are responding to that.

The broadcast networks would kill for The Walking Dead's demo ratings. What is your advice to them?

They're very good at what they do. But I would say for us when we develop a show, we're developing it for a specific audience. I don't have any advice for anybody, but I think [The Walking Dead is] resonating with multiple groups who feel like it's for them for different reasons.

How does the success of The Walking Dead affect the evolution of the AMC drama brand?

We have not been a brand where we have one show, it does well and we make a second one just like it. We've gone the other way. We've said we want to be unconventional, we want to be unexpected, we want to be uncompromising. Those are words that are in our brand ! lter. For us next, we have in development Low Winter Sun, [one of] two pilots that we just greenlit. And they again are going to slightly different audiences as opposed to the same. And I think our movie background allows us to do that in a pretty big way, because that's sort of our point of distinction. If you like us one night for The Godfather, you might come back the next night for [The] Shawshank [Redemption]. It's not necessarily the same target audience.

The premiere ratings look even more impressive when you consider you were up against NFL football and MLB playoffs, as well as AMC still being off Dish Network. Do those numbers give you any sort of leverage in your negotiations with Dish?

I think the live-plus-three-[day rating] on this is going to be enormous, and the live-[plus-seven- day]. Again, if you look at last year's growth, we're adding millions of viewers with this time-shifting, so there's power in that. And of course, the Dish subscriber not having access is probably helping driving some alternate platform viewing. We're No. 1 on iTunes on both the show and subscription passes today, so hopefully they're coming there. I don't know how to respond to the other portion of your question, but people are going to want more and more access to our programming, and the only place they can't get it is on Dish.

Where is your current reality strategy compared to where you want it to be?

We're going into unscripted the same way we went into scripted. We're trying to do it in a way which is reflective of the way we want to tell stories, which is heavy character, very much leaning on the type of storytelling that is not like everyone else. And so almost by design, our development process is going to be a little more selective. We are never in the ‘throw it up against the wall and see what sticks' business; that's not AMC. We're not in the business of saying we have 'X' number of slots to fill. Everything we've done -- Talking Dead to Small Town Security to The Pitch, which is coming back -- each of those have been almost handcrafted the way our scripted series are. So that's the way we're going to enter. It's not going to be bulk philosophy and I'm not looking to fill a certain number of slots by a certain time, that's not the strategy.

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