AMC's Charlie Collier on 'Killing' Backlash, Relationship With Matt Weiner (Q&A)
AMC, home to some of the biggest ratings and critical hits on cable, seems to endure as much drama off-camera as on. A protracted 2010 contract renegotiation with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner led to a 17-month hiatus before the March 25 premiere of season five, which debuted to a series-high 3.5 million viewers. The abrupt firing of original The Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont during season two was followed by record ratings for the zombie drama. And outrage over the inconclusive ending for the crime serial The Killing left many fans vowing to boycott the show (the new season starts April 1). Meanwhile, parent AMC Networks' fourth-quarter earnings report -- the third since being spun off from Cablevision Systems in 2011 -- revealed an $18 million write-down for canceled series Rubicon, though revenue rose nearly 14 percent to $339 million, exceeding Wall Street estimates.
If AMC president Charlie Collier is any worse for the wear, he's not showing it. Quick to laugh and unfailingly gracious, Collier, 42, says the lesson of last year is, "Stagger your challenges." The married father of four (twin 13-year-old boys and two daughters, 9 and 7) grew up in Westchester County, N.Y., with British expat parents; they moved to the States the year before Collier was born and took him and his older brother back to England while Collier was in high school. Collier started on the ad-sales side at A&E and History before heading to ad sales at Court TV, where he stayed until he joined AMC as its president in 2006.
With the final 16 episodes of Breaking Bad set to begin this summer, Collier and his team are looking ahead. Hell on Wheels, the network's second-highest-rated series behind Walking Dead, returns later this year. And AMC is developing a scripted drama based on Sally Jenkins' book The Real All-Americans, about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School that produced Olympian Jim Thorpe, with Tommy Lee Jones in talks to direct the pilot. Collier talked to THR on a recent March afternoon in New York.
The Hollywood Reporter: Mad Men delivered its most-watched premiere March 25. Do the ratings validate the decision to hold the series until 2012?
Charlie Collier: Yes, and the numbers are just part of the story. Mad Men is so much more than the overnight ratings. It's really a lifestyle brand.
THR: After the contentious negotiation, how is your relationship with Matthew Weiner?
Collier: Our relationship has never been better. I've spent a good amount of time with him over the last couple weeks. The show is in great shape. What comes out in the press is bits and pieces but never the full story. We get along very well.
THR: Sons of Anarchy's Kurt Sutter accused AMC of squeezing Breaking Bad and Walking Dead to bankroll Weiner's $30 million contract, writing on Twitter that "the greed of Mad Men is killing the other two best shows on TV."
Collier: Kurt's a talented guy. But in my entire career at AMC, we've never borrowed from Peter to pay Paul. AMC has never been in better shape, which is evidenced by the fact that this year we'll have five scripted series on. We've never been in a situation he describes. It's not accurate.
THR: The Walking Dead got off to a rocky start with the exit of showrunner Frank Darabont. But the March 18 finale made cable history. Do you feel vindicated?
Collier: Well, I wasn't looking for vindication. We have a mission to put on programming that appeals to the passionate audience -- in that case, fans of this genre. And it worked.
THR: The Walking Dead was criticized for its slow pace at the outset, but the back half of this season was action-packed. Is that because of Darabont's exit?
Collier: Obviously, showrunner Glen Mazarra and creator Robert Kirkman were there for the majority of the season, and it really built to its conclusion. They just did a phenomenal job. I actually didn't think it was slow.
THR: Did you ever think a zombie drama would be the highest-rated show in basic cable history?
Collier: I'd love you to say it's not a zombie drama. It's a survivalist drama; and that's what I think its appeal is. If you were torn from your family, would you lead or follow? Would you trust or not trust? The Walking Dead has passionate fans -- we call them fans, others call them "fanboys." We're serving them zombies, but we're serving everyone else a great character drama that happens to be set in the post-zombie apocalypse. And I think that's why the connection works.
THR: Were you surprised by The Killing fan outcry?
Collier: We didn't intend to mislead. It's interesting. We were and are remaining quite loyal to the arc of the original series [which revealed the killer after 20 episodes]. I'm confident that we'll be able to get people back into the story and have them see [showrunner] Veena Sud's great work.
THR: You did a market study to measure viewers' appetite for season two of The Killing. What did it tell you?
Collier: Intent to view is very high from the core fans. So we hope that people come back and get into the story the way they did in the first season. It remains one of the most engaging shows on television and a genre piece done differently.