AMC seems to be testing out a new programming model, and it's a little worrisome.
With their three hallmark original series -- "Mad Men," "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad" -- holding down the AMC programming fort throughout the year, the network is not just embracing those few successes, they're capitalizing on them. Sadly, it's not with more quality original scripted dramas ... it's with somewhat-related reality TV shows.
This year, "The Walking Dead" got a companion in Kevin Smith's "Comic Book Men," all about the shop Smith owns in New Jersey and the guys who work there ... because "The Walking Dead" is a pretty popular comic book. Get it? It was less than compelling, even for die-hard comic book fans, and there was little to no connection to the zombie apocalypse drama happening each week on "The Walking Dead." (The "Walking Dead" post-show "The Talking Dead," on the other hand, proved to be a nice way to continue the zombie conversation.)
Now AMC is trying to capitalize on the critical success of "Mad Men" with "The Pitch," a new kind of reality competition show that follows two advertising firms each week, both vying for the same big account.
“’The Pitch’ was born out of a desire to look for non-fiction series that present characters and story in a grounded and authentic way, and take us into inherently dramatic worlds that have yet to be explore,” said Joel Stillerman, executive vice president of original programming for AMC, in press release.
Translation: It's a cheaper version of a show that's proven successful.
For the past few weeks, it's seemed like AMC was just airing
the faux "Mad Men" show "The Pitch" in chunks during "Mad Men" commercial breaks; they even aired a preview of the premiere episode in early April. But the series had a legitimate premiere this week with two back-to-back episodes (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET on AMC), and I've got to say it was kind of interesting.
Yes, a glowing review, I know, but given that the advertising nitty gritty on "Mad Men" is not why I tune in each week, the pitch for "The Pitch" had me skeptical at best. The show works on some level because the idea is much more solid and the "characters" are more charismatic than those in "Comic Book Men" -- and airing away from "Mad Men's" Sunday night timeslot means it's less of a direct companion.
But I think the most redeeming thing about "The Pitch" is that we all love to critique ad campaigns. When something's brilliant, we imagine we could've come up with it; when something's awful, we delight in wondering how on earth it ever made it to air. We loved Peggy Olson's (Elisabeth Moss) Heinz pitch about dancing beans a few weeks back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but would a bean ballet commercial really inspire you to buy a can? Probably not.
On "The Pitch," the contestants were taksed with a job for Subway about breakfast sandwiches, targeted at the 18-24 demo. One agency nailed it, while the other got stuck on a horribly forced idea about zAMbies. Those are people who are like zombies in the A.M. -- obviously -- and Subway breakfast sandwiches would snap them out of their foggy state. Yep, zAMbies. (Is that some residual "Walking Dead" nod happening there? A veritable parfait of AMC drama plugs!)
While the show is hardly appointment viewing -- and zAMbies and breakfast sandwiches don't feel nearly as nostalgic as Howard Johnsons and Lucky Strike cigarette -- the common ground with "Mad Men" works here in a way, even if "The Pitch" still doesn't feel like the AMC shows we've come to know.
But that doesn't mean that this trend is inspiring much confidence in the future of AMC's original programming. Will they try out something else for "Breaking Bad's" big return? What could they possibly come up with?
Here are three ridiculous "Breaking Bad" reality TV knock-off ideas that, sadly, might not be that far off:
"Meth Men" - All about meth and the men who cook it. We already have mob wives and polygamists touting their illegal lifestyles on reality TV -- why not drug dealers? Plus, with a name like that, people might just think they're watching a new "Mad Men" spin-off. Again, layers of branding potential.
"Below the Law" - Every town has a sleazy lawyer selling himself in cheap commercials. If anyone has ever thought they better call Saul like on "Breaking Bad," we're sure those same people would tune in to watch some real-life ambulance chasers compete for business.
"Science!" - The exact chemistry of cooking meth is something this show has covered in detail, but is all chemistry that dangerous and exciting? There's really only one way to find out: Five science teachers, an impossible experiment, bring your own beakers.
Don't even get us started on a reality TV riff on "The Killing" or "Hell on Wheels" ... introducing "Suspects 101" and "The Chain Gang," starring horrible real-life people, only on AMC!
Tell us: Do you care about reality TV on AMC, or do you only tune in for their dramas?
Check out our slideshow of what to watch this week:
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