AMC Executive: "Era of Remaking English-Language Shows Is Over"

Night Manager Still - H 2016
Courtesy of AMC

The network already has three British co-productions in the bag, with spy thriller 'The Night Manager,' starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, launching in the U.S. on Tuesday night.

After a much-buzzed-about run on British TV, which saw it dominate the prime Sunday night slot usually reserved for period dramas and oversize country estates, The Night Manager lands on AMC on Tuesday with hopes that its ratings success will transfer across the Atlantic.

Over the past couple of weeks, AMC has been making a big marketing drive for its six-part co-production with the BBC, adapted from John Le Carre's spy thriller by British production house The Ink Factory at a cost of around $30 million and starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie.

"This is an event show for us, we'll market it as aggressively as we market any other originals," explains Joel Stillerman, president of original programming and development at AMC and SundanceTV, who commissioned the show for AMC alongside Kristin Jones and Marci Wiseman in January 2015.

Stillerman suggests that British shows, such as The Night Manager, might once have been treated as "filler or second-class citizens" in the U.S. "But for us, that's definitely not the case."

Just a few years ago, there was a growing trend for shows that proved to be a success in the U.K. to be remade for U.S. audiences, with a not-exactly-stellar hit rate. 

Broadchurch, which will soon start filming its third season for the U.K.'s ITV, became Gracepoint on Fox, and was canned after one run. MTV pulled the plug on its adaptation of teen comedy The Inbetweeners — which has spun off into two successful British films — after one season in the U.S., having failed to reach 1 million viewers per episode. And History's U.S. version of Top Gear, despite having lasted six years so far, is generally held in considerably lower regard than the U.K. import.

But The Night Manager, following in the esteemed and well-heeled footsteps of PBS' Downton Abbey and Humans, which was AMC's first British co-production, in that case with Channel 4, shows that this trend has changed for U.S. networks.

"I think the era of remaking English-language shows is over to a degree, and [Humans and The Night Manager] are evidence of that," says Jones, senior vp international programming, development, acquisitions and co-productions for AMC and SundanceTV. "The accent factor is no longer an issue and the original versions of these shows can stand on their own in America."

Humans, which was renewed for a second season due to air later this year, picked up an average of 2.1 million viewers for each of its eight episodes, according to AMC whose parent company AMC Networks also controls BBC America. The Night Manager, which scooped more than 6 million overnight viewers in the U.K. and is more of a star-laden vehicle, is expected to fare much better.

And there's more to come. This summer, the company's SundanceTV network will air The A Word, having come aboard the Keshet International drama as a co-producer alongside the BBC earlier this year. The show — made by British banner Fifty Fathoms, which was behind the Arctic thriller series Fortitude — follows the trials and tribulations of a family in rural England coming to terms with their young son's autism, and seems far removed from The Night Manager's globe-trotting spy antics and Humans' near-future sci-fi appeal.

"It's a very well-made family drama, in a beautiful location, which families don't get to see every day," says Jones. "It's already getting quite a bit of attention in America and it hasn't even aired yet. Autism is an issue that is worldwide and I think it's something people will be able to relate to, whether they're in a family dealing with autism or not."

With three U.K. co-productions already in the bag, and several others from around the world, including Australian series Cleverman, due to land on SundanceTV later this year, Stillerman says there is space for plenty more on AMC's schedule.

"And these are an integral part of our original programming strategy, not just something to kill time or to fill in some hours," he says. "These are shows that are hugely important to the brand."

Sadly, unlike Humans and The A Word, which seems destined for a second season having netted just shy of 6 million consolidated viewers per episode since it began airing on the BBC last month, The Night Manager is unlikely to become a long-running success story. While promoting the show in the U.S., both Hiddleston and Laurie poured cold water on any talk of a follow-up to the first six episodes.

"It's based on a novel, we've got to the end of the novel and John le Carre has yet to write another novel," said Laurie. "So in cold practical terms, no, we're done."