AMC Blazes Trail to Thursdays

The cable net looks to unscripted fare to dominate another block

What’s small and quick and filled with heavy drama? AMC, the network behind the literally brainy sci-fi series The Walking Dead, thoughtful period piece Mad Men and the grim crime drama that is Breaking Bad.

It stands to reason, then, that the network would want to let in a little light with some upbeat, unscripted fare—which explains why its dance card is filled with prospective series like the election-themed Majority Rules.

But with Sunday night already staked out for its drama lineup, all of AMC’s stand-alone unscripted material now prepares to move to an advertiser-friendly Thursday night block, as the network aims to run an original series every week of the year. (Right now, it’s up to 43 weeks.)

This year alone, AMC’s slate jumps from four unscripted originals to eight.

Scott Collins, evp, ad sales, said the unveiling of the Thursday block at AMC’s upfront presentation last week spurred interest from movie and auto marketers in particular.

“You’ll see a lot of autos, QSR, beer, telecom—you’ll see the younger-skewing brands supporting it,” said Collins.

Joel Stillerman, evp, programming, confirmed that the network wants to mirror the success of its Sunday dramas on Thursday. The block launches Feb. 14 with a second season of Comic Book Men, Kevin Smith’s reality show about comic fans, at 9 p.m. Then at 9:30, it premieres Freakshow, about a family-run freak show in Venice Beach, Calif. At 10 comes another newbie, Immortalized, a show about taxidermy (yes, this is a thing now).

Other new series include Showville, about local talent trying to make it—not big exactly, but to callbacks at the local community theater—and Owner’s Manual, about guys who don’t read the directions as they try to operate machinery, including a submarine.

Lump in returning series The Pitch and Small Town Security, and it all amounts to a big swing for AMC—seven new shows over the space of two years, with an eighth on the way. It is also atypical for cable where the accepted strategy is doing one thing all the time really well (see TLC and TBS).

AMC’s unusual tactic is already yielding returns. In early February, investment firm Paulson & Co. listed AMC Networks as one of its top five small-cap stock picks.

The network’s string of successes is, of course, the envy of programmers. The Walking Dead outperforms not just everything else on cable but most shows on broadcast, too—at least in demo delivery.

Yet even with its history of rolling the dice (The Walking Dead had its share of naysayers early on), expanding into unscripted so boldly seems an especially big gamble.

Time will tell whether “making whatever seems cool” is a sound business strategy.