AMC, American Movie Classics began in 1984, and has since presented film favorites from almost every genre and decade. Yet this “movie channel” is the only cable network in history to have won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series four years in a row, as well as three consecutive Golden Globes for Best Television Drama Series. Besides the prestigious awards for new content, its shows (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels) are some of the highest rated shows on television. So how did a movie channel become such an innovator of original content? Let’s find out.
AMC started broadcasting on October 1, 1984, as a premium cable channel that aired classic black and white movies of the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, in a commercial-free, unedited format. By 1987, the channel became the first channel available on basic cable television systems and by 1989, AMC had 39 million subscribers in the United States. AMC was so connected to movies that they partnered with Martin Scorsese’s, “The Film Foundation” to raise awareness (and money) for film preservation.
To attract new audiences to old movies, AMC would do innovative broadcasts such as: Monsterfest, a week-long marathon of scary movies that aired in late October, and Fear Friday, a horror movie double feature which aired every Friday night. They also broadcasted showings of silent film classics, and showed campy old classic movie trailers, drive-in movie concession stand ads that used to get folks popping out of their car to get some popcorn, and music videos pulled from classic musical movies from the period, that really gave viewer’s a sense of the cultural significance of film in America.
In 1996, AMC experimented with original content when it aired its first original series, Remember WENN, a show about a radio station during the 1930’s. The show was well received by both critics and fans, but was abruptly cancelled after its fourth season when a change of management took over whose agenda was to stick with an all movies format. Ironically, in September 2002, AMC decided to change its format, and began to broadcast movies from all eras, mostly because their advertising sponsors wanted more relevant content for their target consumers. They also made the decision to start airing original content, and presented their short-lived reality television series called FilmFakers, featuring out-of-work actors.
Then, in 2007, they struck gold. AMC debuted the original series Mad Men, a period piece about Madison Avenue advertising executives in the 1960’s. The show was immediately hailed by viewers and critics alike as the best thing on television, and went on to win 15 Emmys. The establishment of Mad Men, followed by Breaking Bad in 2008, gave AMC a reputation on par with premium cable networks HBO and Showtime, both of which rejected Mad Men before it came to AMC.
In 2010, AMC debuted another blockbuster show: The Walking Dead and followed that with the contemporary Western Hell on Wheels and the murder mystery The Killing in 2011. They actually canceled The Killing after two seasons but decided to revive it due to a huge casting win by landing accomplished movie actor Peter Sarsgaard (Knight and Day, An Education, Jarhead, Green Lantern), for the show’s third season. And not to miss out in other television venues, AMC premiered four reality television shows in 2012: Inside the DHS, The Pitch, Comic Book Men and Small Town Security.
We hope that AMC—which is owned and operated by AMC Networks Inc. and its sister networks which include IFC, Sundance Channel and WE TV—plans to continue its groundbreaking new content into the future. We’ll have our popcorn ready.