“The Walking Dead” will end this season as the second highest rated show in the coveted 18-49 demographic (behind only Sunday Night Football). Not bad for a show on a specialty cable channel. So why aren’t the networks (who are struggling to avoid extinction) adapting some of the AMC networks simple strategy? (WARNING: SPOILERS OF LAST NIGHT’S FINALE INSIDE).
AMC is a network founded a simple premise — obtain and replay classic movies. And they made money doing it. So much so, they decided to take a chance and began developing and airing original series.
Initially, the series they aired had merely critical acclaim, but gradually, as reality shows started dominating the Big Four (NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX) lineups, audiences started shifting over to AMC as well. Besides crafting character driven, well written drama, AMC took a marketing tact that helped lift shows like “Walking Dead”, “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” to ratings highs.
So why aren’t the big networks learning from AMC’s example? Good question. Here’s a list of some things AMC does well in marketing their shows that the networks could steal and help their own programming.
1. Pick a time slot and stick with it. AMC has certainly made their mark on Sundays at 9pm, where “Walking Dead” and “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” have been entrenched. The big networks have a bad habit of getting skittish with new shows, and move them around the schedule trying to find an audience. If it’s good and you leave it alone, an audience will build around it. If it’s crap, well, it will die in any time slot.
2. Air all the new shows in a row, uninterrupted. In other words, have an actual “season”. Sure, AMC will break up “The Walking Dead” into two mini-seasons, but followers know they will get 8 shows in a row, and they are made well aware of when the break is coming. Have you tried to watch any of the NBC Thursday Night comedies lately? “The Office” will often run two new shows, followed by two repeats, and you’re never informed of when the new shows start again.
3. Don’t overhype the program. This clearly doesn’t mean quantity, as AMC beats you death with the volume of promos for their shows, but rarely does the content of those promos over sell what’s there. You rarely hear terms like “this will be the best Walking Dead EVER!!!” or “You don’t want to miss this week”. Why? AMC trusts the viewers, knows they’re loyal, and because they run the shows in order, they can build suspense based on the content of the show itself.
4. The shows are an hour long. Period. Did you notice last night’s “Walking Dead” finale went five minutes over? Probably not. Because the show was so action packed and tense, you never noticed time passing at all. That’s because there is no padding or fluff on any of their shows. By not doing what the networks do, and expanding to two hour finales (which is pure greed, by the way), AMC shows stay tight and more interesting. Nothing bummed me out more than a two hour “LOST” episode, because I knew most of it would be filler crap that dragged the good stuff down with it. “American Idol” has eroded away about half their audience by going to two hours too often.
5. Kill off a main character every once in a while. Seeing Andrea die at the end of “Walking Dead” last night was sad, but it was damn good drama. Her character was put in a bad place and to have her get out of it would have been disingenuous. Her character’s arc ended, and she was gone. It’s just too bad Herschel didn’t bite it. ABC had tremendous success doing this with “LOST”. But a lot of shows keep characters on way past their expiration date.