How 'The Killing' Came Back to Life

The Killing Back to Life - H 2013

The Killing Back to Life - H 2013

Television's new math revived the canceled series as Fox, DirecTV, Netflix and AMC jumped in to fight for it.

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The Killing was pronounced dead. "After much deliberation," said AMC executives in a July 27, 2012, statement, they had come to the "difficult decision" not to renew the crime drama for a third season.

Less than a year later, on June 2, Killing will begin airing new episodes. The improbable resurrection -- made possible by a unique deal among producer Fox Television Studios, AMC and Netflix, which will stream the third season 90 days after the finale airs on the cable network -- illustrates TV's evolving business model where new platforms hungry for content can save shows with small but loyal audiences. The result: Canceled doesn't necessarily mean canceled anymore.

Indeed, Killing joins a small but growing cadre of shows -- including Arrested Development (which was canceled by Fox in 2006 but premiered season four May 26 on Netflix), Cougar Town (renewed for a fourth season on TBS after a three-year run on ABC), Futurama (which moved from Fox to Comedy Central) and, if Sony TV has its way, the recently axed Happy Endings -- that have been revived thanks to creative dealmaking.

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Killing, a critically beloved drama that garnered multiple Emmy nominations, saw its ratings fall nearly 30 percent during season two from an average of 2.2 million viewers in its first season. Worse, many in the media who had praised the show turned after the season-one finale failed to reveal who killed Rosie Larsen. "While we loved the show, there's that balance of art and commerce that I had to consider," recalls AMC president Charlie Collier of a move he says was particularly tough. But FTVS president David Madden, along with creator Veena Sud's newly signed WME reps Ari Emanuel and Richard Weitz, wasn't willing to give up. "Finding a home for it elsewhere was an unlikely proposition," acknowledges Madden, "but we thought we had a shot because this show did have its fans, and it had in Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos a very strong pairing whose careers are only on the ascent." In addition, Killing had fared well internationally, and Madden knew there would be a market for new episodes.

Further buoyed by Sud's vision for a third season, which will focus on a serial killer and conclude its case in 12 episodes, her agents set up meetings at DirecTV and Netflix, both of which expressed interest. "The Killing had built a sizable audience on Netflix, which stuck with the series through both seasons of the show and loved these characters," says Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

According to multiple sources, DirecTV, which had thrown a lifeline to FX's Damages and NBC's Friday Night Lights years earlier, was busy prepping its first scripted original, Rogue, and didn't have a budget left over to make a revival feasible. Netflix, which has been vocal about wanting serialized programming, was willing to shell out more, but such a scenario would have entailed extensive budget cuts. (Already, the Vancouver-shot Killing was being made for an efficient price tag in the low-$2 million-an-episode range.) At one point, FTVS execs considered such cost-cutting measures as hiring all Canadian actors and directors and doing postproduction in Canada.

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Ultimately, those measures weren't necessary. AMC was back in the fold by fall, having discussions about a way to reduce its license fee enough to make a third season doable. With Netflix making up the difference with the premium it would pay to carry the new episodes in a far tighter window (90 days versus about a year for a typical AMC series), FTVS also could move forward without budget contortions. In fact, the budget is said to be slightly higher for the third season, with the series' two breakout stars (who are getting contractual salary bumps) being joined by new castmember Peter Sarsgaard and more filming done outside. (Former Killing actors Michelle Forbes and Billy Campbell are among several who will not return.)

What followed was a series of complex deals, which included FTVS renegotiating in the international markets in which Netflix now would have first window on the show. Complicating matters, there would be territories in which season three would be available to Netflix subscribers before season two aired. Confident that such deals could be restructured in time, FTVS made its pact with AMC, which needed to move quickly to have the series available during the June gap between the end of Mad Men and the start of Breaking Bad. By mid-March, the Netflix deal was done.

"There aren't many shows that get resurrected," says Madden, who acknowledges that being revived at the very network that canceled the series is even more rare. Fox's Family Guy infamously was canceled and uncanceled, though the period between "over" and "back on" was considerably longer and the circumstances different. "But because there are these platforms like Netflix or Amazon that have a desire for intelligently told, serialized sagas, even if they're not gigantically rated," he adds, "there's now another way to keep these shows alive."