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AMC Enters Unscripted Game With Boxing Project

L.A. boxer series starring Freddie Roach in pipeline as character-driven reality fare joins network

Joel Stillerman
Ken Gabrielsen/Getty Images

THR WEEKLY EXCLU: After four years of award-winning dramas, AMC is expanding into unscripted programming.

The Mad Men and Breaking Bad network is developing a docuseries about famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach set at his Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. Roach’s fighters have included Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr., as well as celebrities like Mickey Rourke.

The project features Roach’s work with boxers as he struggles to ward off the creeping symptoms of Parkinson's disease — an aliment possibly linked to his own days in the ring.

If that story line sounds like it could be the plot of an AMC drama, that's the idea.

We want to find great character-based stories in a verite fashion that have a similar narrative framework to a drama series,” says Joel Stillerman, AMC’s senior vp programming. “The shows are not about what they’re doing, they’re about who they are, and there’s a narrative framework around the concept as opposed to anecdotal storytelling.”

The ICM-packaged boxing project’s producers include Friday Night Lights mastermind Peter Berg as executive producer, along with Sarah Aubrey, Jim Lampley and Michael Price. AMC has even listed a “showrunner” (Brian Hyland), a term generally used for the head writer-producer on a scripted project.

AMC’s quest to add unscripted — it doesn’t use the term “reality” — began more than a year ago. Low-cost series could expand originals like The Walking Dead beyond Sundays and provide a safety net for drama misfires like the recently canceled Rubicon.

As FX, Showtime and HBO have discovered, the challenge is finding content that feels on-brand when paired with smart, grown-up dramas. Although Stillerman won’t rule out any project, AMC is steering for serious documentary topics, rather than competition series or bubbly fare.

“I can safely say that something resembling Jersey Shore will not be on the network,” he says.

Titles that can cross promote with the channel's movie library are also attractive. The mammoth ratings debut of The Walking Dead was aided by AMC promoting the show during airings of zombie movies. If the boxing project makes it to air, you can expect movies set in the ring to be on AMC's schedule. In the first quarter of 2011, AMC will also debut its take on the Danish crime drama thriller The Killing, which also brings to the network its first series with a female lead character (played by Big Love's Mireille Enos).