Q&A: Charlie Collier

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With this weekend's Emmy Awards, no one channel stands to win bigger than AMC, which garnered a personal-best 20 nominations, including 16 alone for the critically acclaimed series "Mad Men." This from a cable network that aired only black-and-white movies not too long ago.

The job of contemporizing the former American Movie Classics belongs to Charlie Collier, who became AMC's executive vp and GM two years ago.

He talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the evolution of the channel.

Hollywood Reporter: How would an Emmy sweep impact AMC?

Charlie Collier: Our business and creative mission is to become the place where the creative community brings their passion projects. Awards are a validation of the strategy of becoming a creator-friendly network.

THR: If "Mad" could only win one Emmy, which would you want it to be?

Collier: It would be historic for AMC to be the first basic cable network to win the Emmy for best drama.

THR: "Mad" creator Matthew Weiner has often noted the creative freedom at AMC. But is there a point where you need to step in?

Collier: It's a creative collaboration. They are the cream of the crop. We're foolish if we think we know their business better than they do and our development group has created an environment where there is collaboration. We didn't hire these guys to tell them how to do their jobs, but we've earned a mutual respect.

THR: With your ad sales background, did you feel an extra affinity for the show?

Collier: "Mad Men" is a passion project for me on so many levels, and having an ad sales background has been a bonus. Getting calls from clients who were around and in the business during that time in history, and to hear we're doing it right, is very gratifying.

THR: If you could have one competitor's show, which would it be?

Collier: FX's "Damages" is a great answer this week because if we had it we'd be alone as the only basic cable network ever nominated in the best drama category at the Emmys. Also what comes to mind is that I'd take some of our competitors' movie libraries. We, more than anyone, know what to do with them.

THR: Who is AMC's primary competition at this point?

Collier: We've seen a huge transition over the last couple of years from AMC being a network where people didn't know where to put it to a network that is alongside other nets with high-ended scripted original programming in a branded environment -- FX, TNT and so forth. I've got no delusions of grandeur; we're obviously not TNT just yet. But we're on a mission and we like how often these days we're hearing that we're in the top consideration set.

THR: What needs the most improvement at AMC?

Collier:
We need time. If you look at what we've accomplished the last few years, we were a network that would have only compared to TCM just a handful of years ago, and now we're one that's compared by the media to Showtime and HBO and all the top basic cable networks.

THR: USA, TNT and AMC all jump-started their viewership with record-breaking numbers by doing Western movies or miniseries. Are there any more like 2007's "Broken Trail" planned?

Collier: That was our first step in the genre. We have some Westerns in development, but we're not looking to be known for one genre.

I absolutely would do another Western, but it's not on the docket at this point.

THR: What do you like about your job?

Collier: My job is the perfect union of art and commerce. I love movies, I love television, I love the creative side of the business, but I also love the business side of the business. Having the ability to share these movies with viewers night after night and talk about them with my staff is one of the best jobs on the planet.

THR: What frustrates you?

Collier: As much as anything I'm impatient. I would love everyone to see everything the team has produced the day it's available. AMC is pleasing audiences, affiliates and advertisers across multiple platforms in better ways every day. And those are three layered elements the TV department at Sterling Cooper certainly never had to deal with.
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