AMC Nets' Scripted Boss on 'Killing Eve's' Future, Head Writer Changes and Emmys Strategy

Sarah Barnett-Getty-H 2019
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Sarah Barnett also talks about managing four networks — she oversees BBC America, AMC, IFC and Sundance — and what's next for AMC's slate.

The past year has seen her go from overseeing just BBC America to an expanded portfolio that includes sister nets AMC, IFC and Sundance, but Sarah Barnett is still riding the Killing Eve wave. The second season of her BBC America breakout, created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, has Emmy heat for stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer — and ever-growing ratings. The AMC Networks president of entertainment networks, who will speak June 10 at the Banff World Media Festival in Canada, caught up with THR to talk about the series' future, her approach to managing four networks and what kind of scripted volume to expect from AMC.

Killing Eve seems to have evolved into a series that could last many seasons.

Nothing about the show is predictable. The conceit, putting two women in the role of cop and assassin, created something that felt very fresh. It's sad but true. We're so used to seeing men in these roles. The thing that is probably unusual enough to keep the engine of the show going is that it's so much about will they/won't they — this electric unresolved tension. [New head writer] Emerald [Fennell] was able to bring the two women together in the second season, yet keep that twisted, obsessive psychological connection there.

Phoebe left after the first season. Now, after Emerald, you've tapped a new head writer for season three.

Handing the baton over and over is unconventional. It's an interesting idea to keep giving the show to relatively new female lead writers. Phoebe had only done Fleabag, but Emerald had never done something of this scale. Suzanne [Heathcote] is a very accomplished writer, but she hasn't taken the lead like this. She really gets the show's psychology, and we're excited for her to reinvent it again in the third season.

For the Emmys, you submit both Sandra and Jodie for lead — yes?

It might have been savvy to say that we weren't going to split the vote with these two, but it just felt like the right thing to do was to give them equal billing. They're both true leads. So far, there's been such a nice confluence. Sandra — and her parents (Laughs) — got to be the stars of the Golden Globes and then, just a couple weeks ago, Jodie won at the BAFTAs. Sandra is quite big in America, but Jodie is a fast-rising discovery. I love how it's played out so far.

Do you attribute the continued ratings growth to buzz or the multinet strategy of airing it on AMC and BBC America for season two?

The buzz for the show has been incredible, and that's getting rarer and rarer in our world — but this is the fastest growing show, season-to-season, that TV has seen in three years. I don't think we would have seen that on BBC America alone. A lot of the viewers coming to AMC are not traditional BBC America viewers.

Is there more room for cross-pollination, or must the four networks maintain separate identities?

In a world where everyone is bulking up, AMC Networks is never going to be producing content on that industrial scale. We don't make hundreds of shows. At the same time, given the consolidation in our sector, we see the need to look at all of our platforms and understand the overlap and the differentiation between the audiences within those brands. To look at that as an ecosystem is necessary.

So it's case by case?

There still is an understanding that each brand can have content specific to itself — but at the same time, you'll see more of us moving things around. We want to expose this content to the greatest audience possible. Digital platforms do it through algorithms. We're increasingly doing it through an analysis of audience and brand.

Speaking of content push, a lot of AMC series are ending. How do you envision the series load looking two or three years down the line?

We'll launch Walking Dead 3, still untitled, in 2020 — and another show that is a sort of a sci-fi rom-com. We're maintaining slots on AMC, and we will always have swings at bat that allow us to be relevant. Because we're not doing a ton, we really do have an approach that allows us to lavish those shows with attention. It's a little more boutique, and some talent may prefer other places, but I think it's good for the industry to have outlets that approach the work in different ways.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.