The 2013-14 Upfront

The Man Who Turned AMC Into a Creative Empire

Starting with Mad Men

Speaking of cash, there’s no better way to keep score than by tallying up the legal tender. Per SNL Kagan estimates, AMC in 2012 took in $348.3 million in ad sales revenue, a haul that represents a 150 percent increase from the network’s 2006 take ($139.3 million). AMC remains undervalued on the affiliate front, commanding an average monthly subscriber fee of a quarter per customer. At 98.7 million homes, that amounts to $296.9 million in distribution revenue per year. And while that’s not exactly chump change, it represents a mere 30 percent increase versus the $229.1 million it booked during Collier’s first year at the helm.

AMC Networks president and CEO Josh Sapan has said that the flagship channel should earn a sub fee of at least 75 cents a pop, and Collier says AMC’s upcoming renewals will reflect the exponential improvements made over the past few years. “A lot of the deals we cut in the past were long-term agreements from when we were truly a stand-alone movie network,” Collier says. “Now obviously, just because someone says a number in the press doesn’t mean we flip over and get that number. But the good news is that people have recognized the unique value we offer, and that’s having a positive impact on the sales and affiliate side.”

Creative Comfort Zone
As the creator and showrunner of Mad Men, Matt Weiner has worked with Collier from day one. And while it’s hard to imagine the supremely confident Weiner ever suffering a twinge of self-doubt, he admits he is still somewhat overwhelmed by the series’ success. “No one else really wanted to make the show, so on the one hand, it was a dream come true when AMC said they wanted to pick it up,” Weiner recalls. “But at the same time…I mean, these people had never made a TV show before. The company was owned by a distributor, and Charlie was fresh out of the ad sales business. So who knew what to expect?”

Weiner has had his share of public battles with the network, rows having to do with everything from product placement and spot loads to creative control, but these flare-ups appear to have been confined to the periods during which he was negotiating new contracts with AMC and Lionsgate TV. And while discussing contract disputes and showrunner turnover is clearly not Collier’s cup of chamomile, he argues that any personnel changes “have always been made in the best interests of the show and the audience.”

For what it’s worth, Collier seems to have cordial relationships with Weiner and Breaking Bad creator and showrunner Vince Gilligan, both of whom were involved in contractual intrigues two years ago. And while The Walking Dead in the course of three seasons has weathered the departure of two showrunners (Frank Darabont and Glen Mazzara), the show hasn’t suffered creatively or commercially. (Arguably the strongest hour of this season, the March 3 episode “Clear,” was written by new showrunner Scott Gimple.)

The genial Gilligan says he’s grateful for the opportunities afforded by his association with the network—even if at first blush it didn’t seem like the right outlet for a show about a cancer-stricken wannabe drug lord. “When I first heard from Charlie, Mad Men hadn’t aired,” Gilligan recalls. “My initial reaction was, ‘AMC? You mean the network that always shows Short Circuit 2? Why not send it to the Food Network while we’re at it? It is a show about cooking, after all.’” Gilligan says that he would have shelved the project if Collier hadn’t been so enthusiastic at the prospect of shooting the pilot. “I was ready to move on to the next thing, and he swooped in like a white knight,” Gilligan says, adding that the way AMC has reinvented itself is “a fascinating thing to have watched from close-up.”

If Collier’s switch from selling ad inventory to curating the zeitgeist is an uncommon progression, those who have worked with the 43-year-old in both capacities say they aren’t at all surprised by his career path. “He’s one of the smartest guys in the business, and he’s got the MBA to back it up,” says Michael Kassan, chairman and CEO, MediaLink. “To have the No. 1 show on all of television and the No. 1 upscale show is a testament to his inherent understanding of the market and his instincts as a programmer. If you’re lucky, you get one or the other. Charlie’s got both.”

To say that Collier’s interests are ecumenical is to traffic in understatement. At the moment, he’s rereading Against the Gods, a volume on risk analysis and probability theory populated by degenerate gamblers, mathematicians and chaos theorists. After enthusing about the book for a few minutes, he produces a special Walking Dead-themed issue of Mad magazine. “My favorite part is when the AMC execs give all the terrible notes at the end,” he says, chuckling like a kid as he flips through the pages. “‘How about a friendly zombie sidekick?’ Isn’t that awesome?”

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